Home/Daniel Larison/Will Romney “Owe” Conservatives If He Wins?

Will Romney “Owe” Conservatives If He Wins?

Jonah Goldberg believes Romney will “owe” conservatives if he wins in the fall:

If elected, Romney must follow through for conservatives and honor his vows to repeal Obamacare, implement Representative Paul Ryan’s agenda, and stay true to his pro-life commitments.

I’m sure this is what conservative Romney supporters have to tell themselves every day, but why must he do any of this? Because he said he would? Given Romney’s special relationship with both truth and consistent political principles, I wouldn’t bet on it. It’s true that Romney’s flexibility is driven by his desire for political advantage. As long as he sees more advantage in keeping conservatives satisfied than in disappointing them, Romney will probably end up doing what many conservatives expect him to do. That brings us to the obvious problem: two of the three things Goldberg lists here will be controversial, very difficult if not impossible to pass (depending on which party controls the Senate), and both are likely to be unpopular from the start.

Under those circumstances, Romney would have to broker deals, and that will involve making concessions that conservatives will probably view as betrayals, or he would throw in the towel in the face of stiff resistance. After all, if Romney wins, it will reinforce the conventional wisdom that Obama wrecked his presidency because he “wasted” so much time and political capital on the health care bill. Romney will learn the lesson that forcing large, complicated, unpopular pieces of legislation through Congress isn’t worth the price, and he will turn to other areas of policy.

Romney will certainly remain formally pro-life. It’s true that he won’t be able to switch back to his earlier position without provoking a significant backlash. He will probably offer pro-life conservatives a few gestures to show that it isn’t just lip service. It will be Romney’s judicial appointments that matter the most, and there have been a number of appointments by more credible pro-life Republicans that have proven to be disappointments for pro-lifers (and for conservatives generally). Should pro-life conservatives trust Romney to do any better? I don’t see why.

This brings me to Goldberg’s main assumption, which is that Romney will “owe” conservatives. Well, it depends on which conservatives we’re talking about. If the nomination contest has shown anything, it is that the more conservative voters have been trying to stop Romney for months and failing. Romney will see that the people identifying as the most conservative elements of the party did their best to thwart his nomination and couldn’t, so why is he going to feel obliged to them? Meanwhile, the people in the party supportive of Romney are less ideological voters and generally less conservative by their own admission, so they are less likely to be concerned about pushing through the agenda favored by activists. They are the voters that Romney will “owe” the most.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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