Which way will this Republican drift?

Which way will this Republican drift?

Mitt Romney’s proposals form a conservative wish list, even down to such unique items as freedom from capital gains and dividend taxes for those earning less than $200,000 (Rs79.2 lakh).

They, however, bear no relation to the policies he instituted as governor of Massachusetts, where he failed to restrain spending and instituted one of the country’s only universal health care mandates. His best ideas also seem unlikely to pass Congress.

As Bay State governor, Romney was a conventional liberal Republican. He increased spending by 22% and the tax burden by 10%, and instituted a universal health care (MassCare) mandate, which is expected to cost $1.7 billion in 2007—its first full year in effect, while its coverage remains incomplete.

Grossing up MassCare’s first year cost to the US population from Massachusetts’ six million, would cost $85 billion, not too far from the Democrats’ health care proposals. As presidential candidate in Republican primaries, Romney has undergone an economic conversion second only to his conversion from pro-choice to pro-life. Moreover, some of the ideas that would differentiate him from other candidates would have difficulty passing even a Congress with a large Republican majority.

Not only does he want a line-item veto, he wants authority to spend up to 25% less than what Congress authorizes and he wants to require a 60% vote in Congress to increase taxes.

He would also hold appropriations growth to 1% below inflation by use of the veto—a very tight limit compared with the 3-4% real growth of domestic appropriations under current President George W. Bush. Given the natural tension between the two arms of government, that wish list looks vanishingly unlikely.

Romney is conventional on foreign policy, supporting the Iraq presence and, if anything, more hawkish on others on defence, requesting 100,000 more troops.

This is all appealing to Republican primary voters but, once nominated, it’s hard to know whether the challenging Romney would shift his policies yet again. The position of Don Quixote, tilting against congressional windmills, seems unlikely to appeal.

It would be much better to revert to his natural stance, not unlike that of his father (George Romney, a presidential candidate in 1968) as a big-spending liberal Republican. After all it worked in Massachusetts—sort of.