Mitt Romney's penchant for saying whatever he thinks might get him elected creates a challenge for a country eager to discern what he would actually do as president. That's true of every candidate for any office, but most would agree that Romney represents an extreme case. Some hints of the real Romney can be teased out: from his policy book No Apology, his campaign position papers, his cadre of advisors and likely cabinet members, and his public statements — and leaked private ones. But in general, little coming out of the man's mouth can be assumed to match what he has said before, let alone his true beliefs — whatever they might be.
But let's give it a shot.
Let's imagine that it is summer 2013.
Romney has been president for six months. The November election, in repudiating the Barack Obama presidency, also ushered in a slim Republican majority in the US Senate, and kept John Boehner and the GOP in control of the US House of Representatives.
In those six months, what has Romney done to reshape the country?
One thing is safe to say: Romney will not have suddenly reverted back to the ideologically moderate technocrat who was elected governor of Massachusetts 10 years ago. "He is beholden to all of these special interests," says Margie Alt, executive director of Boston-based Environment America, "so the Romney we had as governor of Massachusetts is not likely to be the Romney we get as president."
Instead, it's easy to imagine Romney's first six months returning us to the George W. Bush era, with corporations gutting their own regulations and oversight, energy profiteers raping the environment, and pre-emptive war — in this case, air strikes against Iran.
This sounds grim, but here's the good news — without anything close to a filibuster-proof cadre of 60 senators, it is unlikely that Romney and Republicans in Congress will be able to pass significant controversial legislation. And, given the extremist nature of the House GOP, realistic compromise will also be rare.
But that legislative gridlock could actually serve Romney's broader purposes.
Romney can assuage his conservative base by backing legislation that fulfills his campaign promises to them, without worrying about them actually passing into law — things like repealing ObamaCare, slashing non-military discretionary spending, de-funding Planned Parenthood.
He can then blame Democratic obstructionism, and use it as an excuse to do as much as he can get away with unilaterally — not unlike how Obama has governed in the last two years.
The results, however, are likely to be very different.