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The First Tea Party President: Mitt Romney, the Puppet?

There are a lot of things that Mitt Romney has going for him. Romney is steadily climbing in the polls, he's narrowing the gap between himself and President Obama in swing states, and GOP Super PACs are running circles around their democratic counterparts.

There's just one thing that bothers me about him: he doesn't have a singular vision or unifying theme for his campaign. If there is one, it's blurry in the (self-stirred) maelstrom of flip-flopping and etch-a-sketching; unless, of course, you call running as the "anti-Obama" a theme. With the President's lackluster economic performance and polarizing record, this platform might just get Romney elected. After all, the so-called "Tea Party surge" that ushered in our present Congress in 2010 demonstrated that this kind of mandate can win.

This is where I get anxious. Two years in, it's clear Americans are not sold on the extremism that the Tea Party has inflicted on Congress. These extreme measures include the Paul Ryan budget (which castrates programs like Medicare but leaves the bloated Defense Department untouched), stunt-bills with third-grade titles like the "Repeal the Job-Killing Healthcare Act" (ironic, since Republicans proposed the individual mandate), and the debt ceiling debacle which led to America's first-ever credit down-rating.

I'm not anxious that Romney is within reach of the presidency -- Obama and his record deserve a rollicking good debate. What path Romney chooses to take in order to win it is what worries me. 

The easy road is doing what got the Tea Party elected to Congress two years ago -- simply being the alternative. Pissed off at the current president? Think Obama is a Kenyan Muslim socialist? It's easy to be the "fill in the blank" candidate. This is a surefire way to win the southern swing states (Virginia, South Carolina, and Florida) and, if mad enough, the electoral vote-rich Rust Belts (Ohio and Pennsylvania). 

The hard road involves him developing a unique Republican "Third Way", much like Clinton did in '92 and particularly '96. It's hard because Romney's flip-flopped so much, and the Obama campaign will be more than willing to educate voters about this. It's a shame, because I admire a lot of what Romney did in Massachusetts (especially that healthcare law, which seems to be working just fine for them).

This is the crux of my anxiety. A Romney administration that takes the easy road opens him up to becoming a Tea Party puppet. Without a vision, when he goes to Congress with his own ideas, he'll find out that his chum Paul Ryan will already have some. Romney will just be a rubber stamp for a long line of legislation that will repeal post-2008 financial overhaul laws; slashing Medicare to mere block grants, defunding Planned Parenthood, and eliminating the EPA -- all things that a majority of Americans support, by the way, which means there's even the chance that a Tea-Romney administration will wreck the GOP for a whole generation. 

A Romney administration that takes the hard road, however, can go to Congress with a clear mandate from the people demanding a more moderate, more bipartisan government. The Tea Party can scream "no compromise" all they want, but they'll do whatever Romney wants -- they won't risk alienating themselves from the American majority, which has clearly backed their Republican leader. 

I'm on the fence, guys. Really, I am. The fact is that the more ambiguous Romney makes himself in the campaign, the more suspicious I get of his leadership abilities. These days, more and more Americans are taking the hard road in life. What will it say about us, if our president wins the easy way?  

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