Hitting America Running

There’s an item at Politico today by Anna Palmer that’s probably causing a lot of chuckles around Washington, about the “intensifying” transition plans of Team Romney under the direction of former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. The general tone is set by this graph:

The transition effort — while necessary and appropriate for a GOP nominee so close to the election — is a jarring contrast to a campaign that appears on the ropes to many Republican strategists. Receiving no bump from the Tampa convention, Romney is plowing ahead with a methodical approach to staffing his would-be administration, despite the fact that his campaign is said by some to need a radical makeover.

You get the sense the author and a fair number of her sources (and perhaps quite a few readers as well) view Romney’s transition operation as either a necessary but ironic chore or as a neurotic “curtain-measuring” preoccupation for people who can’t do much to improve their prospects for actually occupying the positions and advancing the proposals they are plotting on various charts.

The latter, “neurotic” possibility is real. I can recall a Georgia gubernatorial campaign with which I was tangentially involved way back in the day in which as “my” candidate’s prospects steadily sank like a stone going down the homestretch, many of those in his orbit became very concerned about who was getting what job on that great gettin’ up morning that never came. One of my best friends actually became obsessed with writing an Inaugural Address.

But I strongly suspect something else is going on with the Romney transition operation. If he does manage to win, the transition period will be unusually crucial. And there are a lot of variables, mainly having to do with the existence and size of GOP majorities in Congress. If, for example, the GOP decides (as it has repeatedly promised to do) to undertake a massive legislative blitz–the kind that would make Reagan’s 1981 budget and tax offensive look like child’s play–to implement the Ryan Budget and repeal as much of Obamacare as is susceptible to the budget process with its no-filibuster reconciliation rules, then speed, unity and careful coordination will be essential. And anyone who thinks a barely elected Romney with tiny congressional majorities will be inhibited from this kind of blitz or will waste time searching for “bipartisanship” really, really does need to read Elephant in the Room: Washington in the Bush Years, the Washington Monthly‘s new eBook.

Lest we forget, when George W. Bush was elevated to the presidency by the U.S. Supreme Court after the most agonizing election count since 1876, there was a lot of talk about his need to show some “humility” and in effect operate a bipartisan coalition government to reflect his obvious lack of any mandate. His people–some of the same people working for Team Mitt today–brushed the talk aside and immediately pushed to implement as much of his platform (notably the tax cuts, enacted via reconciliation) as possible, a mentality that only intensified after 9/11 when Bush enjoyed exceptional approval ratings and freely deployed the Power of Fear.

Maybe Leavitt and company are just wasting their time, but there’s every reason to assume the transition effort is aimed at replicating or even improving on Bush’s one-party-government, hit-America-running precedent.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.