September 28, 2012 10:30 AM ET
It was tempting to dismiss Mitt Romney’s hard-right turn during the GOP primaries as calculated pandering. In the general election – as one of his top advisers famously suggested – Romney would simply shake the old Etch A Sketch and recast himself as the centrist who governed Massachusetts. But with the selection of vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, the shape-shifting Romney has locked into focus – cementing himself as the frontman for the far-right partisans responsible for Washington’s gridlock.
There is no longer any ambiguity about the path that Romney would pursue as president, because it’s the same trajectory charted by Ryan, the architect of the House GOP’s reactionary agenda since the party’s takeover in 2010. “Picking Ryan as vice president outlines the future of the next four or eight years of a Romney administration,” GOP power broker Grover Norquist exulted in August. “Ryan has outlined a plan that has support in the Republican House and Senate. You have a real sense of where Romney’s going.” In fact, Norquist told party activists back in February, the true direction of the GOP is being mapped out by congressional hardliners. All the Republicans need to realize their vision, he said, is a president “with enough working digits to handle a pen.”
The GOP legislation awaiting Romney’s signature isn’t simply a return to the era of George W. Bush. From abortion rights and gun laws to tax giveaways and energy policy, it’s far worse. Measures that have already sailed through the Republican House would roll back clean-air protections, gut both Medicare and Medicaid, lavish trillions in tax cuts on billionaires while raising taxes on the poor, and slash everything from college aid to veteran benefits. In fact, the tenets of Ryan Republicanism are so extreme that they even offend the pioneers of trickle-down economics. “Ryan takes out the ax and goes after programs for the poor – which is the last thing you ought to cut,” says David Stockman, who served as Ronald Reagan’s budget director. “It’s ideology run amok.”