The GOP nomination is his to lose. The sluggish economy might make the general election his to win. Then what?
What would Mitt Romney do as president?
With the Republican nomination likely to fall to him — as would-be conservative challengers ebb and flow like the tide — it’s a fair question to ask, even though it’s far too soon to tell whether he’ll gain the Oval Office next year.
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Still, Romney, more than any other GOP candidate seeking the nomination, could send President Barack Obama into early retirement. Much depends on the economy. If it worsens in 2012, he’ll be a shoo-in. If it stays about the same, the former Massachusetts governor has a 50-50 shot. If it gets better, Obama would be tough to beat.
If Romney wins, here are some campaign promises he would keep, and some that would fall by the wayside:
He’d trim the corporate tax rate to 25%, from 35%, betting companies would use the money they save to create jobs and to help prevent existing ones from moving overseas.
And he’d extend the expiring tax cuts, first put in place by former President George W. Bush, for all Americans. Without Obama in the White House, the bid by Democrats to raise rates for those atop the pay pyramid would lose momentum and, eventually, fail.
But Romney’s cuts-only approach to wiping out the massive U.S. debt wouldn’t fly. No matter who wins control of the Senate in the next election, getting the required 60 votes in that chamber would remain out of reach for any broad measure that is not built on compromise, just as it is elusive now for Obama.
So, at some point, Romney would have to agree to increase revenues, either by increasing some taxes or eliminating some tax write-offs. He might also have to go along with cuts or changes in federal entitlement programs — Medicare and Medicaid, perhaps even Social Security.
By breaking his no-tax-hike pledge, Romney would take some heat from tea party types, the same folks he is having so much trouble winning support from as the as the primaries approach. But that comes with the territory. No president is able to keep every campaign promise. And Romney wouldn’t be the first candidate to stake out one position to help him win the nomination, then tack in a more moderate direction to appeal to a broader swath of voters in the general election.
But giving in a bit on taxes might allow Romney to protect programs that are favorites of the right. For instance, defense cuts might be smaller if more revenue came in. Romney wants to add 15 ships to the Navy fleet each year, an ambitious plan that wouldn’t float if he stuck to his pledge to solve the deficit with spending cuts alone.
Romney would also use the White House’s bully pulpit to push a balanced budget amendment, but to no avail. The bar for altering the Constitution is set intentionally high. Even if enough votes could be found in Congress — next to impossible in this political climate — the proposal would still need to be ratified by at least 38 states. Still, an ongoing debate would allow Romney to push his vision of a smaller — but not small — government, without requiring him to outline the tough budget cuts that would be necessary to comply with the amendment.
Expect a President Romney to dial back his heated rhetoric on China, as well. It’s one thing to say that on his first day in the Oval Office he would label China a currency manipulator and impose punitive tariffs. But it’s another thing entirely to follow through, since it would start a trade war with the United States’ second-largest trading partner, resulting in tariffs on American goods in return. U.S. firms would lose sales of energy equipment, aircraft and more, while consumers would pay higher prices for apparel, footwear, toys and other goods.
Finally, Romney would most likely have a chance to put his stamp on the U.S. Supreme Court through appointments that would outlast his presidency. Four justices, two appointed by Ronald Reagan and two appointed by Bill Clinton, will be at least 78 years old by 2017, when the next presidential term comes to close.