If Romney wins, he would begin his first term as a baffling figure

Walter Shapiro's Yahoo! News column examines how character collides with policymaking in Washington and in politics. Shapiro, who just finished covering his ninth presidential campaign, also is writing a book about his con-man great uncle who cheated Hitler.

By Walter Shapiro

In the frenetic closing hours of a hard-fought presidential campaign, Mitt Romney has been ballyhooing his bipartisan credentials. It’s part of his final argument to persuadable voters that he’s really Moderate Mitt rather than the “severely conservative” Massachusetts governor of the Republican primaries.

In Sanford, Fla., on Monday, Romney boasted that in Massachusetts, working with “a Democrat legislature—85 percent Democrat—I helped turn my state from deficit to surplus.” And the Republican nominee in his final major campaign speech Friday in West Allis, Wis., pledged, “When I’m elected, I will work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress. I will meet regularly with their leaders.”

All this brings to mind a delicious story from Romney’s first days as governor in 2003. At a closed-to-the-press meeting with top legislative leaders, Romney told them about his private-sector management philosophy from Bain Capital, “My usual approach has been to set out the strategic vision for the enterprise and then work with the executive vice presidents to implement that strategy.”

As Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman make clear in their biography, “The Real Romney,” the mostly Democratic legislators were not amused by Romney’s business theories of political governance. Regardless of party, few legislators in Congress or on Beacon Hill in Boston see themselves as second-tier management implementing someone else’s strategic vision.

Romney has matured as a political leader over the past decade, though he has spent more time running for president than serving in public office. And Romney did have legislative victories in Massachusetts, including (shhh!) a health care reform plan eerily similar to the President Barack Obama’s.

The lasting relevance of that Massachusetts anecdote lies in the way it highlights the painful transition from the glib certainties of the campaign trail to the unrelenting demands of actually governing. It’s why it’s still hard to see the relevance to the White House in Romney’s frequent campaign trail claim, “I promise change—and I have a record of achieving it. I built a business, and turned around another.”

If Romney were elected, he would probably have to deal with a divided Congress in which Democrats retain a narrow majority in the Senate while the Republicans are in command of the House. The legislative arithmetic for Romney would revolve around the necessity to pick up about a dozen Democratic votes to overcome any Senate filibuster.

As the 45th president, Romney might well be able to enact a significant portion of his domestic agenda during the post-inaugural honeymoon period thanks to GOP discipline and Democratic skittishness.

Obamacare would almost certainly be eviscerated or eliminated, though in an era of austerity budgeting, it’s hard to imagine what alternatives would be offered to the uninsured. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would be made permanent—and business would be granted a permissive regulatory climate.

Far trickier would be enacting Romney’s signature proposal to slash all income tax rates by 20 percent and make up the revenue loss by closing loopholes and ending deductions. The intractable problem is that President Romney would either have to slash popular deductions like mortgage interest or concede that his numbers cannot add up as revenue neutral. Whenever Congress gets into the act on taxes, it is a safe bipartisan prediction that no voting bloc suffers and the deficit soars.

Beyond the bold strokes of his budget-slashing economic agenda, Romney would enter the Oval Office as a baffling political figure. He has reinvented himself politically so many times from his centrist days of his 1994 Senate campaign against Ted Kennedy to the fire-breathing conservatism of the Republican presidential primaries that it’s impossible for an outsider to know what’s real. In fact, Romney himself may be a bit bewildered as to where he stands.

A Romney presidency might be a portrait in schizophrenia.

On one hand, he probably would assign key roles to soft-right Republican advisers like the former Utah governor Mike Leavitt (who heads the transition team) and Beth Myers (who ran the vice-presidential search).

But whatever his personal beliefs, Romney also understands that the right-wing conservatives who dominate the Republican Party have accepted him with reservations. Whether picking Supreme Court nominees or charting his way through the thicket of social issues, President Romney would be keenly aware of the implicit threat of a primary challenge in 2016 if he deviates far from doctrinal purity.

Every new president in his confident, post-election naiveté makes serious errors. In fact, the desk chair in the Oval Office should come with a seat belt and training wheels.

The character test lies in how a new president responds to the discovery that no one, not even a veteran of Bain Capital, is prepared for the rigors of the White House. What he does with that knowledge—rather than his six-year quest for the White House—would be the true measure of the leadership style of Mitt Romney.

  • Head of Egypt's censorship board resigns after dispute over showing bombshell's steamy film
    Head of Egypt's censorship board resigns after dispute over showing bombshell's steamy film

    CAIRO - The head of Egypt's censorship board has resigned after the country's prime minister overruled his decision to allow a film starring a sultry Lebanese singer to be shown. Ahmed Awad, undersecretary to the culture minister and head of the censorship authority, told The Associated Press on Saturday that he had submitted his resignation Thursday morning in response to Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab's decision to stop the film from being shown. The censorship board is meant to be an independent body that gives the final say on whether a movie can be seen by Egyptian audiences. Mahlab said he stopped the film from being shown in response to calls from the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood and "to preserve the morals of our children." Lebanese sex symbol Haifa Wehbe plays the lead character in the film and has a young boy infatuated with her.

  • Kansas students, parents not thrilled about having Michelle Obama at high school graduation

    TOPEKA, Kan. - If expanding the guest list to include Michelle Obama at graduation for high school students in the Kansas capital city means fewer seats for friends and family, some students and their parents would prefer the first lady not attend. A furor over what the Topeka school district considers an honour has erupted after plans were announced for Obama to address a combined graduation ceremony for five area high schools next month an 8,000-seat arena. For others, it was the notion that Obama's speech, tied to the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlawing segregation in schools, would overshadow the student's big day. They've taken the glory and shine from the children and put on Mrs. Obama.

  • Woman dies after dad hits her trying to park near Ottawa hospital
    Woman dies after dad hits her trying to park near Ottawa hospital

    A 54-year-old woman from Trenton, Ont., has died after she was struck just outside The Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus as her father was trying to park the vehicle.

  • Want your skin to look 20 to 30 years younger? Try this
    Want your skin to look 20 to 30 years younger? Try this

    This can reduce the effects of aging on the skin with just three months of treatment, making it appear 20-30 years younger, and won’t cost you a dime.

  • Air Canada investigating luggage toss caught on video
    Air Canada investigating luggage toss caught on video

    Air Canada says it is investigating after a video that appears to show its baggage handlers dropping items from a tall staircase circulated on the internet.

  • Rehtaeh Parsons suspect accused of threatening girl's father
    Rehtaeh Parsons suspect accused of threatening girl's father

    One of two teens charged in the Rehtaeh Parsons child pornography case is now accused of threatening to kill the girl’s father, Glen Canning.

  • Miss America defends student suspended for asking her to prom

    By Chris Francescani NEW YORK (Reuters) - Miss America has suggested officials at a Pennsylvania high school reconsider their decision to suspend a student for approaching her at a school assembly and asking her to be his prom date, the beauty queen said on Saturday. The disciplinary action taken by school administrators in York against the 18-year-old senior made national headlines, and generated sympathy for the young man on social media. A video of Central York High School senior Patrick Farves approaching 2014 Miss America Nina Davuluri on Thursday at a school assembly was posted on a local newspaper's website. It shows Farves walking up to Davuluri bearing a plastic flower and ask her to his prom, as the crowd of students erupts in laughter and cheers.

  • As Toronto Mayor Rob Ford kicks off re-election campaign, rival Olivia Chow releases first attack ad
    As Toronto Mayor Rob Ford kicks off re-election campaign, rival Olivia Chow releases first attack ad

    Toronto's municipal election is still six months away and it's already spawned its first attack ad against infamous incumbent Mayor Rob Ford. The campaign for Olivia Chow, the former New Democrat MP who's seen as the front-runner to unseat Ford, … Continue reading →

Follow Yahoo! News