The Washington Post

Romney's partisan transition — and presidency

And so it begins.

The pressure from conservatives on the Mitt Romney administration, that is. Politico reported over the weekend that Romney is (admirably) moving ahead promptly on pre-planing his presidency, putting former Utah governor Mike Leavitt in charge of what will become the transition should Romney win.

What followed is exactly what should be expected: concern from movement conservatives. See, for example, Philip Klein’s bill of particulars against Leavitt: He’s not sufficiently against the health care reform; he’s not dedicated enough to cutting government programs Republicans don’t like; he’s not obsessed with slashing taxes.

The truth about all of this is a bit complicated. On the one hand, I wouldn’t put too much stress on individual old positions of any one individual within the campaign or (should it happen) the presidency. On the other hand, collectively it’s absolutely true that personnel is a good indicator of where a presidency is going. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Barack Obama basically had a similar agenda and ideological predispositions as Bill Clinton had, but if anyone had any doubt, the numerous Clinton administration veterans in the Obama White House were a clear tip-off.

But the other piece of this is that recent presidents have been partisan presidents, and there’s no reason to believe that Romney would be an exception even if he wanted to be. That wasn’t always the case; John Kennedy and Richard Nixon both hired White House staffs made up primarily of people with strong personal connections with the president but with only limited previous connections to their parties. But that began changing as early as Jimmy Carter’s presidency, and the most recent White Houses were dominated by those with strong party connections, most of whom had only started working with the president in the most recent campaign or, in many cases, were new to him.

What all of that will do is to mean that the personalities of the particular selections on the White House staff, and in executive branch positions, will all matter – but only in the context of placement within the mainstream of the Republican Party. And it also means that partisan pressure on the administration will usually be heard clearly, because White House and other personnel will be firmly placed within their party’s network.

That certainly doesn’t mean that there will be no conflicts; things look different from inside the White House than they do elsewhere. So expect many more shrieks of outrage from movement conservatives as they scrutinize every Romney campaign move and transition action if he wins; if they don’t squawk, then they wouldn’t get there way. But also expect Romney to be a mainstream conservative Republican if he wins, because whatever he may or may not really believe about anything, his presidency will be a partisan one – because they all are now.


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