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.

  • Expectant Parents Asked the Internet to Name Their Child. And the Winning Name Is…
    Expectant Parents Asked the Internet to Name Their Child. And the Winning Name Is…

    In January of this year, an expectant father named Stephen started the website NameMyDaughter.com, where anyone on the Internet could suggest and vote on potential names for Stephen’s forthcoming baby girl. Well, as noted by the folks at Betabeat, Stephen’s wife Alysha gave birth on April 7. And the winning name is — drumroll, please!

  • Video of ‘ghost’ running through soccer stands in Bolivia goes viral
    Video of ‘ghost’ running through soccer stands in Bolivia goes viral

    A frightening video of what looks like a ghost running through the stands at a Bolivia soccer game on Thursday has gone viral. If you watch closely, there is a figure running at a fast pace straight through the stands, … Continue reading →

  • ‘Insta-breakup’ after guy dumps girlfriend via Instagram photo
    ‘Insta-breakup’ after guy dumps girlfriend via Instagram photo

    Getting dumped is awful…getting dumped over the phone is worse. Getting the “it’s not you, it’s me” spiel over a text message is the ultimate low blow. That is, until a highschooler in Georgia decided to say ‘sayonara’ to his … Continue reading →

  • Paramedics called to Canada PM Harper's home on Sunday

    By Louise Egan OTTAWA (Reuters) - Paramedics were called to the residence of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the weekend, police and municipal officials said on Wednesday, but circumstances of the emergency, which did not involve Harper or his family, were unclear. The Globe and Mail and other local media reported that an 18-year old girl was taken to the hospital for severe intoxication after a party at the residence, citing the Ottawa Paramedic Service. The Paramedic Service was not immediately available to confirm the reports and a spokeswoman for the City of Ottawa, which oversees the paramedics, said confidentiality prevented her from disclosing details. "We can confirm that Ottawa Paramedic Services responded to a call for service on Sussex Drive in the early morning of Sunday, April 20," the spokeswoman said, referring to the official residence.

  • Tim Hortons breaks with franchisee after foreign workers claim wage theft
    Tim Hortons breaks with franchisee after foreign workers claim wage theft

    The head office of Tim Hortons has taken over two franchises in Fernie, B.C., and Blairmore, Alta., months after several employees told CBC News the owner took advantage of their status as temporary foreign ...

  • Ronald McDonald takes to Twitter, gets new outfit as McDonald's puts focus back on clown
    Ronald McDonald takes to Twitter, gets new outfit as McDonald's puts focus back on clown

    NEW YORK, N.Y. - Ronald McDonald has a new look, and he's ready for a selfie.

  • Public, lawyers differ on whether RCMP should look into underage drinking incident at PM's home
    Public, lawyers differ on whether RCMP should look into underage drinking incident at PM's home

    If the Yahoo Canada News' comment board — along with the Twittersphere — is any indication, there's a lot of outrage that RCMP won't be investigating the incident that took place at 24 Sussex over the long-weekend. As explained by … Continue reading →

  • Jodie Foster Marries Girlfriend!
    Jodie Foster Marries Girlfriend!

    Jodie Foster can add a new title to her impressive resume - blushing bride! Jodie and girlfriend Alexandra Hedison have tied the knot, her rep confirmed to Access Hollywood . The exciting news comes 15 months after Jodie took the stage at the 2013 Golden Globes to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, and spoke publicly for the first time about her sexuality.

Follow Yahoo! News

Loading...