Heard It All Before

This report from Michael Barbaro of the New York Times speaks for itself:

Lately, Mr. Romney cannot stop talking about how much he wants to work with Democrats.

“I will meet regularly with Democrats in Washington, with their leaders, and my party’s leaders, and battle together to find ways to help the American people,” he said a few days ago.

Rewind to the primaries: Mr. Romney sounded much less centrist. He said then that Tea Party members, known for their uncompromising rigidity, would find him “the ideal candidate.” He also questioned his rival Rick Santorum’s conservative credentials, citing a vote to fund Planned Parenthood.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in early 2012, Mr. Romney emphasized, “I fought against long odds in a deep blue state, but I was a severely conservative Republican governor. I have been on the front lines and I expect to be on the front lines again.”

These days, when Mr. Romney talks about his record in Massachusetts, it is not as a deeply conservative governor, but as a leader who welcomed communication and compromise.

“I knew from the very beginning, to get anything done I had to reach across the aisle,” Mr. Romney said on Monday.

Sitting in the audience, Carla Dickard, 61, said she was drawn to Mr. Romney’s put-down-the-pitchforks message. “It wasn’t always like this, everyone so divided like they are,” she said. Ms. Dickard views Mr. Obama as overly partisan, setting off the birth of the Tea Party. Mr. Romney, by contrast, she said, “seems to understand that we won’t get anything done unless we work together.”

Now Carla Dickard, who apparently lives in Tampa, where Romney was campaigning, is easy to mock. How could anyone live through the last four years and reach the conclusion that the Tea Party was a collection of frustrated moderates who put on funny hats because Obama would never, ever talk to Republicans and backed a health care overhaul that no Republican could ever accept? And how could anyone living in a competitive Republican primary state where Romney and his rivals just a few months ago breathed fire at the very idea of even thinking about compromise with Democrats so confidently decide he was lying then instead of lying now?

Beats me, but we’ve certainly heard it all before: most notably in 2000, when George W. Bush, who was then the candidate of the entire conservative movement, spent months talking about his love of working with Democrats down in Texas (mostly a matter of accepting the surrender of conservative Democrats who were in the process of leaving their party during the latter stages of the Great Realignment), of his desire to be a “uniter, not a divider.” Didn’t work out that way, did it?

I do keep wondering if conservatives, who must understand by now that they are probably going to be denied the hammer of a majority in the Senate (which would largely turn Romney into a figurehead on domestic policy), are getting nervous about all this bipartisan happy-talk, which they generally regard as satanic. But I guess they’ve heard it all before, too, and unlike Carla, don’t take it seriously. As with Bush, “working with Democrats” most likely means “accepting their surrender,” aside from whatever face-saving gestures can be arranged. W.’s idea of a token of his bipartisanship after ascending to the presidency via intervention by the Supreme Court was to offer to make John Breaux, a friend of the oil and gas industry if ever there was one, Secretary of Energy. I’m guessing Mitt would be happy to offer a position to a nominal Democrat with jurisdiction over issues where his or her perspective happens to entirely coincide with that of the GOP. Why not? Talk is cheap, and so are empty gestures.

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.