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April 26, 2012 11:12 AM Will Mitt Triangulate?

By Ed Kilgore

The manuevering between the two parties on student loan interest rates is interesting, but is there a feeling of deju vu about it? Greg Sargent thinks so:

Is the battle over student loans shaping up as a rerun of the payroll tax cut fight, which by all accounts badly damaged the GOP?
Consider the parallels. Just as in the payroll tax cut battle, there’s a looming deadline: On July 1st, interest rates on federally funded student loans is set to double. Barack Obama and Democrats, confident that the politics are on their side, are signaling that they intend to remain on offense on the issue.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney and other Republican leaders, apparently sensing that this a losing issue for them, have voiced varying degrees of support for extending the low rates. And just as in the payroll tax fight, they insist their only issue is about how to pay for the extension. Yet they won’t say what spending cuts they would favor to offset it.
Meanwhile, House conservatives — just as during the payroll battle — are beginning to signal that they oppose the extension, period, full stop.

Greg goes on to quote Rep. Todd Akin of MO, who is in one of those look-at-me-I’m-the-craziest GOP primaries for a Senate nomination, as saying the involvement of the federal government in student loans, regardless of the interest rates, is a symptom of America’s “stage three cancer of socialism.”

If Greg is right about the basic dynamics, we could see an interesting test of two very basic questions about how the general election will play out: (1) how interested are House Republicans in making life easier for their presidential nominee, and (2) is it possible Mitt Romney will “triangulate” against them if they don’t cooperate? This latter possibility must be tempting to Team Mitt. After all, there are three basic ways to moderate one’s image: Change your positions or messages (i.e., get out the “Etch-a-Sketch”), contrast yourself with the supposed extremism of your opponent (Republicans have about reached the point of diminishing returns on that theme), or contrast yourself with your least popular allies. It’s not like Romney would have to “flip-flop” to embrace a position on student loans that probably polls at about 80%; he just has to refuse to go along with the loonier impulses of House Republicans, some of whom are from districts so safe they could come out for moving the Capitol to the Rockies and renaming it Galt’s Gulch without fear of defeat.

Romney’s relationship with the more militant elements of the conservative movement has always been, well, complicated. He was their default-drive candidate in 2008, their purported enemy in this year’s primaries, and now their “titular leader.” Will they do him the service of scaring swing voters by growling at the cameras and then let him play the lion-taming “moderate?” We may soon see.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • dalloway on April 26, 2012 11:23 AM:

    Well, he can't triangulate now without facing a conservative revolt at the convention -- and with the way Ron Paul is hoovering up delegates Romney thinks he's won, that could be problematic. If he triangulates after the convention, he risks hard right conservatives staying home during the election, unlike Democrats of the Clinton era, who were hungry for a Democrat in office after twelve years of Republican "governance." Mitt might try to have it both ways, but he won't officially triangulate. It's too risky and the Mittster doesn't like risk unless he's insulated by a corporation. In this case, he's not.

  • boatboy_srq on April 26, 2012 11:27 AM:

    Why should Romney make any change here? He can triangulate for the swing voters in one speech and toe the line for the conservatists in another - and remain entirely consistent with his past behavior.

    This is Multiple-Position Mitt we're discussing; the only thing that remains consistent in all his rhetoric is "Vote for me 'cuz I lurve Ahmurrca" - as you pointed out only yesterday.

    The question is not whether Romney will attempt to woo moderates by saying something positive about extending the current student loan rate; the question is whether saying one thing to swing voters and another to movement conservatists yet another time even gets noticed by the MSM and the electorate.

  • TCinLA on April 26, 2012 11:37 AM:

    Will they do him the service of scaring swing voters by growling at the cameras and then let him play the lion-taming “moderate?”

    This assumes two facts most definitely NOT in evidence:

    1. That looney House Republicans have the brains to see such a move as a good thing; I doubt they possess that kind of political literacy, since they have no other political literacy.

    2. and more important, that Romney would have the spine to do such a thing; he has essentially demonstrated to the conservatives his spinelessness, that he wants to be President so badly he'll do anything for them, which is probably the only reason they're supporting him - that he will be a biological "signing machine" for their legislation while in the White House.

    So overall I doubt anything will happen, other than the loonies will get loonier as they continue the experiment of How Looney Can You Be And Still Be Taken Seriously?

  • Peter C on April 26, 2012 11:44 AM:

    LOCK STEP. That's how they've voted. That's who they are. Did any of them speak out against Akin??? Did any of them speak out against West??? No. They all think the same; it's just the stupid ones which screw-up and verbalize it.

    We've got to run against them all. They feel more loyalty to the party than to the nation. I'll chew my arm off before I vote for a Republican.

  • Ron Byers on April 26, 2012 11:55 AM:

    I am liking the fact that Akin has taken the looney lead on this. He is running for Claire's seat and Missouri might be crazy, it isn't that crazy. If he wins the nomination Claire could have an easier time in the fall.

    Ed, do you notice that I am not really interested in the Romney triangulation discussion. He will triangulate for the same reason your old friend Bill did, to work the middle, but unlike Bill, Mitt is facing a really serious bunch of loonies on the Right. Bill's thinking is where are the people we throw under the bus going to go. Bill was right, but Mitt's wacko right is really wacko. They might just sit at home. Triangulation might have been a good low risk strategy back in the day, but today the risks are higher and the rewards are lower.

  • Mitt's Magic Underpants on April 26, 2012 12:25 PM:

    Good post, Ed. Romney knows he can count on the right's hatred of Obama overcoming everything else. No one will call Mitt on his lies -- it will never become CW.

  • T2 on April 26, 2012 12:25 PM:

    A lot of it will depend on who/when he selects a running mate. A fire breather like Ryan could give Mitt the cover to drift to the middle, but a more Romney-like VP would mean Mitt would need to stay closer to the wild side. If I was Romney, I'd wait until the convention to announce the VP choice. He does have a problem with the Crazy Wing of his Party and if he doesn't treat them right, he might find out what "crazy" can do. But all of that said, Romney/----- will be a much stronger ticket than McCain/Palin, and that's why we could be surprised by the closeness of the race.

  • Jimo on April 26, 2012 12:28 PM:

    Obama 2012 has already thought through this. That's part of why the President right now is running against the entire Republican Party. (The other part is: there's little point to being re-elected if Republicans control Congress.)