Mitt Romney seems to have an extraordinarily high opinion of congressional Democrats. In his much-anticipated appearance on "Meet the Press" yesterday, Romney made news by saying he supports retaining parts of Obamacare, especially a ban on pre-existing conditions. His campaign subsequently made clear that his position hadn't changed from the primary: If you lose your insurance at any time for any reason, and you have an expensive pre-existing condition, you're basically out of luck when you seek new coverage.
What struck me, however, was Romney's suggestion to host David Gregory that Democrats in Congress would rally round his presidency for the good of the country. "I actually think that because we’re at this precipice, economically, at the precipice fiscally as a nation as well, that there are going to be good Democrats and good Republicans who have shown respect,” Romney said. “If they see a president that’s willing to work with them, to share credit with them, to encourage them and pull them along, that we’re going to be able to deal with the challenges we have."
In other words, Romney believes -- or says he does -- that Democrats come from a different planet, galaxy and universe than Republicans.
In January 2009, the month in which Barack Obama was sworn in as president, the U.S. lost 800,000 jobs. Another 700,000 would be lost the following month. The nation’s GDP had just contracted at a 9 percent annual rate in the previous quarter, hurtling the U.S., and with it the global economy, toward depression.
In response, about 15 House and Senate Republicans, including the man Romney chose as his running mate, Paul Ryan, met on the very night of Obama’s inauguration. Over a lengthy dinner, they decided to organize what author Robert Draper characterized as "united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies."
And the Republicans relentlessly followed through. “Instead of doing what was right, partisan politics always came first,” former Republican Senator George Voinovich told author Michael Grunwald. All that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell cared about, Voinovich said, “was making sure Obama could never have a clean victory.”
It’s not clear why Romney thinks Democrats are less partisan and more patriotic than Republicans. Democratic leaders did round up votes to pass President George W. Bush’s politically toxic Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008, despite revulsion at legislation to bail out a traditionally Republican constituency -- big banks.
But it seems a bit optimistic to expect similar Democratic accommodations to a Romney White House. The "precipice" Romney sees is a vast, stable plain compared to the economic situation in early 2009. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are as partisan as any Democrat in Washington. It's also possible they might harbor some ill feelings about the whole “united and unyielding” thing.
Romney's not dumb. So he's probably just mimicking the disingenuous line taken up by President Barack Obama, who has said that his re-election would break the Republican “fever” and enable Republicans to resume working across party lines. As Ramesh Ponnuru has explained, it’s highly unlikely that Republicans will offer anything but massive resistance to a second Obama term. In the event Romney is elected, Democrats will almost certainly take up the role of Hatfields to the White House McCoys.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)
Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View at the Ticker.