A President Romney’s judicial nominees would be superior to President Obama’s simply because he would not be trying to stack the bench with liberal activists. But they are likely to far exceed that low bar. Each Republican president since the Nixon-Ford era has nominated a higher percentage of conservatives as justices to the Supreme Court than his predecessor. That’s mostly a testament to the growth and development of the conservative legal network. Romney is likely to look for nominees whom conservative lawyers like — Robert Bork is a top adviser — who are professionally accomplished, and who cannot be portrayed as extreme. If Republicans hold the Senate they will almost certainly be confirmed. If they do not, they will probably be confirmed.
Romney’s regulatory agencies will be relatively restrained. His appointees to the National Labor Relations Board will not punish Boeing for locating a plant in a right-to-work state. He will act, within the limits of his legal authority, to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing expensive restrictions on carbon emissions. He will reinstate conscience protections for pro-life health-care workers.
It’s true that almost any Republican president, not just Romney, would do these things. But that’s the point. The Republican party now features a remarkable degree of programmatic consensus. The entire field wants to cut corporate tax rates, convert Medicaid into block grants, and (the asterisk candidacy of Gary Johnson aside) protect unborn human life. Even Jon Huntsman, the candidate positioned farthest left in the field, favors these policies. None of them enjoyed such uniform support in previous primaries, and some of them had none.
When the candidates differ, it is typically on issues that are unlikely to matter during the next presidency. Representative Bachmann may, unlike some of the others, wish to abolish the EPA, but no conceivable Congress within the next eight years will grant her wish.
The narrowness of the candidates’ differences on pertinent issues militates in favor of picking the one who can best implement the sensible agenda they largely share. It also reduces conservatives’ need to worry about candidates’ sincerity. If President Romney were to do an about-face on carbon caps, the right to life, or taxes, he would be going to war with the vast majority of his party. The fact that conservatives do not regard him as the leader of their movement tightens this constraint on him. A Republican president with more capital among conservatives would be able to deplete it.
Romney’s public positions and his political interests both suggest he would govern as a conservative, albeit a cautious one. Many conservatives want more than that from a president, more than executive experience and public agreement with them on the issues. They want a president who shares their convictions and instincts, who will actively seek occasions to advance their views, and who will take political risks for them. They are right to want these things, for the most part, and there is no guarantee Romney will deliver them.