Romney By Hook or By Crook

Speaking of Moderate Mitt and his mendacity, a lot of folk are gazing in awe today at the latest David Brooks column, which, predictably, offers the American Beauty Rose of twisted rationales for electing Romney. Kevin Drum looks at it from the angle of rewarding conservative hostage-takers:

Shorter David Brooks: congressional Republicans are such implacable assholes that they’ll flatly refuse to support big legislation that’s good for the country as long as Barack Obama is president. But congressional Democrats are more reasonable, so if Mitt Romney wins, he’ll be able to get some big stuff passed. Therefore you should vote for Romney.

Shorter shorter David Brooks: the only way to deal with terrorists is to give them what they want.

Yep, but I think Kevin is actually under-estimating the cynicism of Brooks’ argument. For his Mitt-will-get-big-things done hypothesis, he has to make these assertions:

To get re-elected in a country with a rising minority population and a shrinking Republican coalition, Romney’s shape-shifting nature would induce him to govern as a center-right moderate. To get his tax and entitlement reforms through the Democratic Senate, Romney would have to make some serious concessions: increase taxes on the rich as part of an overall reform; abandon the most draconian spending cuts in Paul Ryan’s budget; reduce the size of his lavish tax-cut promises.

As President Romney made these concessions, conservatives would be in uproar. Talk-radio hosts would be the ones accusing him of Romneysia, forgetting all the promises he made in the primary season. There’d probably be a primary challenge from the right in 2016.

But Republicans in Congress would probably go along. They wouldn’t want to destroy a Republican president. Romney would champion enough conservative reforms to allow some Republicans to justify their votes.

Now recall, please, that Mitt Romney and virtually every Republican member of Congress have spent much of the last decade and all of the last four years administering blood oaths to each other that they will allow the economy to collapse, the business of the country to become permanently gridlocked, and presumably the very universe to crumble before they will support “increasing taxes on the rich.” As long ago as 1993, every single Republican Member of Congress voted against Clinton’s first budget almost strictly because it increased taxes on the rich. It is the “conservative principle” that dwarfs all others. And because today’s Republican pols have learned by heart the horror story of George H.W. Bush’s ignominious defeat for violating The Pledge, it is extremely unlikely any of them will hold hands and jump off a bridge in order to protect the flanks of Mitt Romney, assuming Romney himself is willing to blithely repudiate his own 10,000 blood oaths against raising taxes on the rich. And thus, even if David’s right and a significant number of Democrats can be mustered to break their own blood oaths to resist the basic thrust of the Ryan Budget, what’s the foundation of the Grand Compromise, to be built on a road of broken promises?

I’ve often observed that David Brooks’ M.O. is to approach every political question from a lofty, ostensibly non-partisan perch, wheeling in the sky above the grubby partisans before descending to earth at a point that just happens to coincide with the practical needs of the Republican Party. Right now the overriding imperative is getting Mitt Romney elected by hook or by crook. Then Republicans under the lash of their conservative movement masters will figure something out.

UPDATE: Brother Benen notes that Brooks’ argument reminds him of what Ramesh Ponnuru was saying in early September, in a column that essentially argued the choices were Romney or chaos, thanks to the intransigence of Republicans. But I’d make a distinction: Ponnuru was calling for “united Republican governance.” Brooks is pointing to an imaginary bipartisan wonderland that will somehow be produced by Republican intransigence. At least Ramesh knows his own party.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.