Jack Balkin has written an interesting essay on the political problems a Romney administration would likely face:
If Mitt Romney is elected, he will be the fourth Republican president in the Reagan regime. That regime is no longer in its glory days. Demographic shifts have weakened the Republican electoral coalition, while Republican politicians have grown increasingly radical and ideological. At best, Romney will be an affiliated president attempting to revive the Republican brand after it has been badly tarnished by George W. Bush; at worst, he will be a disjunctive president, unable to keep his party’s factions together, and presiding over the end of the Reagan coalition.
Throughout his career, Romney has presented himself as a pragmatic, data-driven, hands-on problem-solver. In this respect he resembles our two last disjunctive presidents, Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter. Yet in order to secure his party’s nomination, Romney has had to twist his positions to conform to the most radical demands of the Republican base.
As Balkin explains in the essay, a “disjunctive” president is one “with the misfortune to be associated with a political regime in rapid decline.” Being a “disjunctive” president is an accident of bad political timing, but it is also confirmation that the “regime” to which the president belongs has exhausted itself. I am doubtful that Romney would turn out to be a “disjunctive” president of this sort, in part because I assume that George W. Bush already played that role for the “Reagan regime,” but it would be harder to view Bush that way if Romney won the election.
If Romney fits any of the categories Balkin mentions, it seems to me that he is much more of a “preemptive” president (and, no, this is not a reference to war). “Preemptive” presidents are those that “must find a “third way” to establish their legitimacy and forestall opposition,” and at least on domestic policy I assume Romney will be inclined to pursue that path. Whether he would be successful at it or not obviously can’t be known yet, but this is very likely what he would try to do. According to Balkin, these “preemptive” presidents “can only survive by appearing moderate, pragmatic, and non-ideological.” Romney will certainly want to survive politically, and it’s not as if he has any firm principles that he wouldn’t be willing to compromise. The question is whether Republicans in Congress would agree to follow him in these compromises or rebel against him. It would probably depend on what the compromises are, and whether Romney would be able to use Ryan effectively to pacify disaffected conservatives.
It’s possible that Romney could suffer from the same problem of intra-party opposition that plagued Carter, and I can imagine him facing a primary challenge in 2016, but both of these scenarios overestimate the fractiousness of the GOP. Not only is the modern GOP much more ideologically uniform than Democrats were in the 1970s (or now, for that matter), but Republicans have become even more averse to rebelling against and challenging presidents from their party than they were just 20 years ago. This is partly because they see this as a path to political defeat in future elections, and because they have become even more accustomed to deferring to presidential leadership when it comes from one of their own. That will give Romney room to maneuver in ways that many of his own supporters will find obnoxious, but which almost all of them will accept anyway.