If Mitt Romney is elected president, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid could become conservatives' new best friends.
Admittedly, that might be a bit of an exaggeration -- but only a bit. The ironic truth is that if congressional Democrats pursue an obstructionist strategy in a potential Romney administration, they could give conservatives in the House and Senate more sway over policy.
In my new e-book, "Conservative Survival in the Romney Era" I argue that even though Romney is now the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, conservatives must keep the pressure on him from the Right.
Short-term political considerations caused conservatives to remain silent when Bush and congressional Republicans tossed aside limited government principles. Partly as a result, federal spending soared, rising from $1.86 trillion in 2001 to $2.98 trillion in 2008, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That's an increase of 60 percent in just seven years, and it doesn't even include TARP, which went out in fiscal 2009.
If Romney believes he can take conservative support for granted, it's much more likely he'll migrate leftward as Bush did and embrace big-government policies, should he become president.
Though many conservatives have memories of Democratic judicial filibusters during the Bush era, Democrats did not obstruct Bush as much early on. He received crossover support for "No Child Left Behind," which passed on an overwhelming bipartisan basis. Though the Medicare prescription drug law, which added $14.3 trillion to the long-term entitlement deficit, was a much closer shave, 16 House Democrats broke ranks to support the legislation, enabling Bush to get it over the top. (The Medicare bill passed the House in 2003 after a marathon three-hour vote, by a slim 220 to 215 margin, with only 25 Republican defections.)
Democrats were less willing to cooperate with Bush as his presidency wore on, and the trend toward increased partisanship in Washington carried over into the Obama presidency.
When President Obama came into office in January 2009 with sky-high approval ratings, Republicans faced a choice as to whether to provide votes for his agenda or to oppose him vigorously. The GOP remained united against his policies, at the risk of being labeled "The Party of No." Policy considerations aside, it was an objectively smart political calculation. Had Obama's policies proven popular, Democrats would have maintained power even if Republicans had gone along with them. Because Obama's policies proved unpopular, Republicans were in a strong position to run against them.
A perfect example of this came with the health care reform bill. Not a single Republican voted for the final bill in the House or Senate, and so the GOP was able to batter Democrats on the issue. In 2010, any one of the Democrats seeking re-election in the Senate could be described as the deciding vote for Obamacare.
Given the increased polarization between the two parties, a President Romney would likely face the same kind of lockstep resistance from Democrats, who will seek to deny him any easy victories. This would not only be payback for Republican behavior toward Obama, but also a gamble that they will be able to capitalize when Romney's political fortunes sour.
And this is where conservatives can benefit. If Romney enjoys bipartisan support for his initiatives in Congress, he can credibly threaten wavering Republicans to support big-government policies as Bush did: "If you don't support this bill, I can cut a deal with Democrats that would be further to the Left." But if Democrats are completely intransigent, congressional conservatives can reply: "Good luck with that."
As long as a bloc of conservatives stands firm in the House and Senate (should Republicans take control), they'll wield tremendous influence over the legislative agenda in a prospective Romney administration.
Philip Klein is senior editorial writer for The Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com.