So, Scott. You complain a lot about the staleness and rigidity of conservative economic orthodoxy. What's your problem, then, with Mitt Romney? Isn't he just the type of slippery character who will ditch the pandering on January 21, 2013, and govern like a problem-solver?
Maybe. But that scenario creates new problems of its own. It'd be like going from the frying pan to the fire.
All right. Let's stipulate that Romney is a smart cookie. He looks at the data. He sees that even if GDP grows at a healthy 3.6 percent for the first three years of his term, we won't reach full employment until 2017—that is, after his re-election campaign.
Even if thinks he can ride that positive trajectory to a second term, he's going to want to be more aggressive about goosing employment numbers. He's not going to leave his presidency at the mercy of optimistic CBO projections.
So what are you saying?
I'm saying there's a better-than-average chance that President Romney is going to conclude he needs a stimulus bill out of Congress, both of whose houses may be controlled by his party in 2013.
If and when that happens, he's going to run into problems with his base and hardline conservatives in Congress.
Already, we can see that if Romney's the guy, he's going to be on a short leash. Not many Republicans really and truly like him, which means he's not exactly going to be staked with a ton of political capital when he gets in. And if he asks for a stimulus, he's going to confirm the party's worst fears about him: that he's a flip-flopping, no-good RINO (Republican In Name Only). Almost immediately, his presidency will be weakened.
Wait a minute. You've got to admit Romney's not just smart; he's clever too. This is a guy who spent a good chunk of his political career distancing himself from the legacy of Ronald Reagan. If he ends up becoming president—in this supercharged ideological climate—you'd have to concede he knows how to play this game pretty well.
Yeah, okay, so what are you saying?
I'm saying Romney and his political team will come up with a palatable new brand. They're not going to be dumb enough to call it a “stimulus.” They'll call it the Supply-Side-Entrepreneur-von-Hayek Mises Recovery Act or something like that. They'll emphasize the tax cuts instead of the infrastructure spending. Heck, you know they're going to throw the balanced budget amendment in there, too.
And everyone will go along? The opposition to stimulus is just going to melt away?
If that ends up being the case, then a lot of people are going to have to apologize for singling out Mitt Romney's slipperiness.