Etch A Sketch Time for the GOP
Hard right rhetoric in the House and Senate will cool as November nears.
Call it "the Romney Effect," or call it a GOP bent on recapturing the White House, but whatever the name or rationale for taming partisan rhetoric, it comes down to gaining some much needed political wiggle room for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
House Republicans know they have to tone down the diatribes and stop hiding behind their uncompromising agenda if they're to accomplish their goal of ousting President Obama. Refuse to budge at least a bit from their never-give-an-inch mentality and it could cost Mitt Romney support from centrist voters. He absolutely needs the political middle to maintain any hope of winning in November.
Romney can expect some compromise from House GOP hard-liners on holding down student loan interest rates and maybe even on creating revenue by closing some corporate tax loopholes. And don't be surprised if the majority party in the House also tones down its debt ceiling rhetoric; it has been threatening to let the government hit the ceiling unless Washington cuts more spending.
The Republican nominee-in-waiting will have to prod some Senate Republicans into modulating their right-wing agenda as well, but that's far easier than the task Romney faces with his House brethren. On issues such as student loan rates and wiping out tax breaks, he at least gets some help from the Democratic majority in the Senate.
In what may turn out to be a hopeful sign for Romney, the House GOP recently moved a bit more toward the middle on student loan rates, though the Republican majority refused to pay to keep those interest rates from doubling by closing $6 billion in corporate tax loopholes, as Democrats had urged. House Republicans opted instead to gut preventive care measures in Obama's health care reform law, prompting Democrats to try to paint that move as another broadside in the so-called war on women. If Democrats succeed in making their case, it may force House Republicans to move closer to accepting the idea of closing the corporate loopholes.
There's more than just domestic politics at work here, too. Global economics are also going to clutter up the GOP's "no new taxes" platform. There is some evidence that austerity alone is not working in Europe. Officially in a double-dip recession now, Britain is a prime example, with many economists blaming the recurring slump on making deep cut without raising taxes. Count on Team Obama to point to Britain's recidivist economic doldrums as it argues that GOP cuts have impeded the U.S. recovery as well.
Apply that same argument in the reprise of raising the debt ceiling expected in the fourth quarter of this year. Romney ducked and dodged the bloody debt ceiling debate last summer, but don't expect him to take that tack when the fight is resurrected later this year. His "Silent Mitt" act last year was all about not alienating the tea partyers with any hint that he would come out for raising the debt ceiling, but there will be no bobbing and weaving as his general election campaign focuses on wooing the political center.
Despite primary accusations that he would shift toward the center in the general election (remember his adviser saying, "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch.... shake it up and restart all over again"), the fact is that all candidates do it. That's where the votes are. To win the election, Romney will need to muzzle the tea party faction, and those far-right budget cutters will have to hold their noses and take their medicine. That may be a tall order, but he has no choice but to try. The U.S. debt rating cannot face even the potential of absorbing another downgrade. It would send the financial markets into a tailspin and return the fragile American economy to recession.
Conversely, look for Romney to swallow a bitter pill of his own. He'll have to widen his stance on immigration reform or else kiss good-bye any chance of winning states such as Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. He'll also have to spend more time and money than he'd like in order to win Arizona, usually a Republican stronghold. Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona will help bring out the Hispanic vote in Arizona, and polling shows that Hispanics in the Grand Canyon State overwhelmingly prefer Obama to Romney.
So Romney has no choice but to take his cue from potential vice presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), whose "DREAM-lite" immigration reform bill is the only Republican game in town when it comes to attempting to cut into Obama's huge support among Hispanic voters.
It's indeed Etch A Sketch time for the Republicans.