05 November 2012

"Romney will raise taxes:" the Republicans' China syndrome?

Here's Fareed Zakaria in the current issue of Time:

Romney partisans quietly admit that the Republican Party will have to accept higher taxes but claim that only one of its own can take them there.

Two pages later in the print edition, here's Rob Long, a National Review editor:

So why not nip all this “Romney might actually win” stuff in the bud? Which is why, for the past week, most of my Republican friends have been reminding one another that doom really is just around the corner, that the polls are misleading, that Obama’s get-out-the-vote machine is impossible to beat, that the left-wing media will protect their candidate, that the current voter demographics favor the opposition—and no matter what, Do not get optimistic. Do not allow yourself to hope.
“Ohio is neck and neck,” a Republican friend texted me the other day, “and O pulling out of North Carolina.”
It was true, but he nevertheless felt compelled to follow up with this deflationary text: “We’re still prob. gonna lose.”
But what if we don’t? “What haps then?” I texted my friend. The iPhone went silent for a moment. Then it chirped a reply: “That wd be awful! Romney as prez will raise taxes 4 sure. O vs. Rep. Congress won’t b able 2.”

The reasoning in either scenario is "Only Nixon can go to China," that only someone of proven principled opposition to a necessary thing can make the persuasive, pragmatic case for it. The implicit presumption is that whoever wins the election will have to at least propose tax increases to reduce the deficit. Rob Long's correspondent fears that Republicans would be unable to say no to one of their own should President Romney insist on it, while resistance would remain unyielding to President Obama. Meanwhile, even Rich Lowry, the writer designated by Time to make the "Case for Mitt Romney," concedes that, should Romney adopt his own running mate's budget plan, "taxes as a percentage of GDP would be slightly higher than their average over the past several decades."

The question for Republicans becomes whether they want executive power or would rather not have the responsibility that comes with it. Do they hate taxes or Obama more? Would they rather have a President they hate -- granting that Romney could play that role easily enough -- in order to keep themselves vigilant, or are there things they actually want the government to do that only a Republican President can get done? We probably all think we know what Republicans don't want. Tomorrow's election forces the question of what they do want -- and they may not know themselves.

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