Ryan Lizza latest bird’s-eye analysis of what a second Obama term might look like has some great stuff on the illusoriness of electoral mandates:
The concept of a mandate was essentially invented by Andrew Jackson, who first popularized the notion that the President “is the direct representative of the American people,” and it was later institutionalized by Woodrow Wilson, who explicitly wanted the American government to be like the more responsive parliamentary system of the United Kingdom …
But the idea is mostly a myth. The President and Congress are equal, and when Presidents misinterpret election results — especially in reelections — they get into trouble …
One thing is nearly certain: if Obama wins in November, his margin of victory will be among the narrowest in history.
The same, obviously, holds true for former Gov. Mitt Romney.
A couple months ago, I floated my reasons for why I think it would be beneficial for the country if Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan as a running mate, and the pair campaigned forthrightly on Ryan’s proposals for Medicare/Medicaid reform, discretionary spending cuts, and even lower taxes on the rich. The victory or defeat of this ticket would perhaps open up some measure of daylight in the ideological stalemate on Capitol Hill.
If Obama wins a contest in which the Ryan budget is a centerpiece of the GOP campaign, then perhaps enough Republicans will be ripe for a Bowles-Simpson- or Gang of Six-style compromise next year. Perhaps, under this scenario, enough Republicans will concede that the country can’t afford more tax cuts.
Conversely, if a Romney-Ryan ticket unseats Obama, then the Romney administration might have a clear electoral mandate. And with such a mandate, the GOP could begin to honestly reshape the public’s expectations about the level of government services it will receive in the future.
After reading Lizza, I’m not so sure. If Romney wins, it’s going to be by the skin of his teeth. And it seems to me that a President Romney would have as his negotiating baseline during “Taxmageddon” negotiations the “Grand Bargain” that Obama and Speaker John Boehner purportedly almost hammered out. The ceiling would be the Ryan plan.
Winning a “frame election” in partnership with Ryan, even if narrowly, might increase the chances for Republicans to get closer to the ideal of their aggressive agenda. And losing such an election could doom them. Yet if Romney opts for a blander veep choice, and only narrowly wins after having run a safe “referendum” campaign,” how does that help the chances of Ryan’s budget reforms?
Or, as Lizza’s analysis implies, it could be that we simply end up with the same muddle we’re in today.