Are Mitt’s Congressional Shackles Slipping?

What is potentially the most dramatic of all electoral subplots seems to be building with virtually no public comment: even as Mitt Romney postures to swing voters as the newly re-emerged Moderate From Massachusetts, the shackles of a Republican congressional majority that once guaranteed the slippery Mitt couldn’t violate his various blood oaths to the conservative movement may not be so tight any more.

Richard Mourdock has taken another big step towards throwing away a safe Senate seat in Indiana. Todd Akin is showing no signs of recovery in Missouri. The latest polls are showing Tim Murphy beginning to overcome Linda McMahon’s money in Connecticut, and Elizabeth Warren building a consistent lead in Massachusetts. Angus King again looks safe in Maine. Sure, GOPers could run the table of close races in Montana, North Dakota, Virginia and Nevada, but overall, prospects for Senate control are looking grim.

So the conservative game-plan, articulated many months ago by Grover Norquist, whereby a newly elected GOP congressional majority would pass the Ryan Budget via reconciliation procedures and present about a decade or two worth of demolition work to a newly elected President Romney, who had promised to sign it–doesn’t look quite so healthy. And this scenario hasn’t been discussed much because pretty much everybody figured an election in which Mitt won would surely produce a Republican Senate, given the GOP’s massive advantages in the landscape of that chamber in this particular cycle.

With Election Day just 13 days off, it’s far too late for conservatives to publicly demand fresh Vows of Total Submission from Romney–vows he’s already made, for one thing, but that most conservatives didn’t really think they’d need with a Republican Congress. They’ll have to grin and pretend to admire the Moderate Mitt talk, barren as it actually is. But you have to figure that behind the scenes there’s some serious don’t-you-dare-cross-us talk going on, whether or not Romney has any intention of using a Democratic Senate as an excuse to go back on his promises to let the conservative movement run wild in 2013 in exchange for tolerating his nomination.

It’s an interesting dynamic to watch, though one that is obviously of academic interest if Mitt loses and conservatives quickly consign him to the ashbin of failed RINOs.

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.