A newly energized Mitt Romney hit the campaign trail, brimming with confidence, the travails of the horrible Republican primary race now behind him.
“Start packing,” the former Massachusetts governor told President Obama in an interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News.
And indeed, Gallup’s first general election tracking poll has him beating the president slightly, by 47% to 45%, and leading among independents by 45% to 39%.
But as Romney prepares to tell voters what he would do as president, he got an uncomfortable reminder of who’s really in charge: Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives.
In Monday’s New York Times, Republican congressmen made clear they had no intention of following their leader off a cliff, as they did under George W. Bush.
“’We have led and will continue to lead,’” Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania told The Times.
And here’s Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma:
On the big issues—spending, taxes, what we do with the deficit—I just don’t see much difference,..and more importantly, I don’t see an escape.
No escape? How encouraging! Sounds like hostage taking, in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s immortal phrase, although this time the hostage would be a president of their own party.
The Romney campaign was quick to respond, in its inimitable, courageous way. “Governor Romney will welcome the help of Congress to enact his agenda and get the country back on track,” spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
Translation: You decide, we’ll cave.
Romney’s whole campaign has been about placating extremists in the Republican Party, and the Tea Party congressmen and women are extremists who have real power.
They’ve done the country a service by putting debt and deficits front and center in the national debate. But in their zeal, they pushed the country to the brink of default and likely cost us our AAA rating, as Standard & Poor’s itself made clear.
Their program now is equally extreme: They’re trying to renege on the automatic spending cuts they agreed to last year, in order to boost defense spending and radically cut safety net programs like food stamps.
And Romney has enthusiastically supported the budget proposals of Tea Party favorite Rep. Paul Ryan, which would cut social spending drastically and eventually phase down Medicare for a voucher system for future recipients. Ryan is a popular GOP choice for Romney’s running mate.
Meanwhile, Romney has proposed permanently extending all the Bush tax cuts and cutting individual income taxes by 20%, although he hasn’t spelled out how he’d pay for it.
His plan could cost as much as $5 trillion in lost tax revenues over the next decade.
Now, I think we need to address all these things, especially Medicare and Medicaid, which will ruin us fiscally if we don’t make big changes. Current discretionary domestic spending is a drop in the bucket compared with that, though sensible cuts and re-thinking social programs make good sense there, too.
But when it comes down to it, Romney and the Tea Party care as little about the deficit as tax-and-spend Democrats do. They’re philosophically committed to cutting taxes and eviscerating the safety net, and the deficit is the Trojan horse that will help them do that.
As Louisiana freshman Rep. Jeff Landry told the Times:
We’re not a cheerleading squad…We’re the conductor. We’re supposed to drive the train.
Etch-a-Sketch it all you’d like, but here’s how it is: A vote for Romney is a vote for the Tea Party. Period and end of story.