Imagining a Tea Party presidency

David Frum has a new item for CNN today, pondering a series of 2012 scenarios. The one he likes least is the fourth of four options: Republican voters nominate a “Tea Party Republican” who goes on to win the White House.

In which case, not only tea party Republicans but all Republicans and all Americans will confront the problem: what next?

The tea party stands for a series of propositions that don’t meet the reality test: that deficits matter more than jobs, that cutting deficits and tightening credit will accelerate economic growth, that high taxes and over-regulation are the most important reasons that growth has not revived, and that America still offers the world’s best opportunity for the poor to rise. Tea party plans call for a radical shift in the burden of taxation from the rich to the poor — and promise big reductions in government spending without touching any of the benefits of current retirees.

If put into practice, the tea party platform is a formula for political and economic crisis.

There are a couple of important angles to this. The first is that Frum makes a distinction between “Tea Party Republicans” and Mitt Romney. I’m not sure if that’s wise. Sure, the former Massachusetts governor has generally avoided pandering to Tea Party groups, but not exclusively. “I believe in a lot of what the Tea Party believes in,” Romney said a month ago, adding, “[I]f the Tea Party is for keeping government small and spending down, and helping us create jobs, then, hey, I’m for the Tea Party.”

The second, and arguably more important, element here is Frum’s description of the Tea Party Republicans’ agenda, which he considers a formula for crisis. I’m very much inclined to agree with the larger point, but did you notice the policy wish list?

Consider it again: deficit reduction over job creation, tighter credit, targeting regulations and taxes, shifting the tax burden downwards, and deep spending cuts. Does this not sound familiar?

Frum characterizes this agenda as a Tea Party radicalism that would be a tragic failure if implemented. I hate to break this to Frum, but his description of the Tea Party agenda is identical to what mainstream Republicans already want. The entire GOP leadership has already embraced this agenda; just about every Republican lawmaker in Washington has already voted for this agenda.

Frum’s nightmare scenario is that the standard GOP wish list in 2011 will be a disaster if put into practice in 2013. Does Frum not realize that nearly all — if not literally all — congressional Republicans have already thrown their support behind this crisis-inducing platform?

And if Frum does realize this, then why is he still a self-identified Republican?