Even before the race for the Republican presidential nomination effectively ended, many of Mitt Romney's most notable supporters expressed deep misgivings about him. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, said a day after endorsing the former governor, "There are a lot of other people out there that some of us wish had run for president -- but they didn't."
On Capitol Hill, the dissatisfaction is considerably more acute. More than a dozen far-right House members chatted yesterday with reporters, and as Sahil Kapur reported, the group had "a hard time finding anything praiseworthy to say about their party's presumptive presidential nominee."
Fourteen GOP conservatives sat together Tuesday on a Capitol Hill panel to field questions from a few dozen reporters and other attendees about the political issues of the day. When asked, predictably, to provide their thoughts about Mitt Romney, they turned decidedly lukewarm.Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) summed up the conservative mood with a joke that won laughter from the audience, but might have hit too close to home for many in the GOP."Whether you're liberal, whether you're very conservative," he said, "you ought to be excited [about Romney] because he's been on your side at one time or another."
All of these conservatives were resigned to their fate -- they're loyal Republicans, and Romney will be their nominee -- but none of them could muster the will to say something nice about the guy. They hope he wins, not because they believe Romney would be a good president and a strong leader, but because they hate President Obama.
In response to a question about whether he feels any excitement about Romney's candidacy, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the hyper-conservative Republican Study Committee, said, "[W]e're excited about the opportunity to beat Barack Obama."
Let's not lose sight, however, of the larger context. It's interesting that House conservatives still aren't comfortable with their party's 2012 nominee, but the broader significance is that House conservatives also have fairly specific expectations about Romney's role in government in the event that he wins in November.
In short, far-right Republican lawmakers believe Romney will work for them, effectively becoming little more than an auto-pen for Congress.
The New York Times had a fascinating item the other day on this.
As Congress was set to reconvene on Monday, House Republicans said Mr. Romney could go his own way on smaller issues that may help define him as separate from his Congressional Republican counterparts. But, they said, he must understand that they are driving the policy agenda for the party now."We're not a cheerleading squad," said Representative Jeff Landry, an outspoken freshman from Louisiana. "We're the conductor. We're supposed to drive the train."
Traditionally, especially in Republican politics, a president, in addition to his official duties, heads his political party and takes the lead in shaping its policy agenda. Lawmakers from his party are expected to follow the president's lead and share his priorities.
This crop of congressional Republicans, fueled in part by their mistrust for Romney, expect to turn this model on its head -- they're in charge; they're in the lead; and it will be President Romney's job to do as he's told to do.
There have been signals on this front for much of the year. In February, for example, Grover Norquist explained at CPAC, "We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don't need a president to tell us in what direction to go.... We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don't need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate."
Romney, as far as many in his party are concerned, will be a bystander if he's elected. And who knows, maybe Romney is comfortable with that -- he seems to seek power for the sake of having power, and may be satisfied following whatever instructions his party gives him.
Either way, there's a power play underway in GOP politics, and 201 days before the election, it's already on public display.