The Romney presidency: The worst-case scenario

War with Iran. An ultra-conservative Supreme Court. Death to Social Security. Romney could be an epic disaster

Published October 29, 2012 11:45AM (EDT)

     (AP/Chris O'meara)
(AP/Chris O'meara)

A few moderates and liberals have lately taken to arguing that, you know, maybe a Romney presidency wouldn't be too bad. He might turn out to be more moderate, or at least pragmatic, than he's acted in the campaign so far. He might make a point of reaching out to Democrats in Congress. Republicans might regain their trust of Keynesian economics and actually do things to boost the economy out of naked political self-interest, instead of sabotaging the economy out of same.

I am not really convinced! Mitt Romney will be working with a Congress full of Republicans and his Cabinet and administration will be full of Republican political appointees, and that adds up to disaster, especially with the current, insane Republican Party.

As it's the spooookiest time of the year, it seems appropriate to ask: What's the Romney presidency worst-case scenario? If Mitt Romney turns out to be exactly the severe conservative he says he is, what can we expect?


Obviously we're bombing Iran. They might be spinning some uranium around in a mountain, and we can't let that continue. As Wired recently reported, bombing Iran isn't actually as easy as it sounds. If we want to do it right, it'll take a massive strike against Iran's ability to launch a counterattack on Israel or Kuwait, followed by the much more massive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

And of course war with Iran leads to a worldwide oil shock, probably.

But why stop with a preemptive airstrike? The actual worst-case scenario, in terms of loss of life and possibly world-destroying consequences, would be a nuclear strike on Iran. I'd hope that would be off the table even in the event of "Defense Secretary John Bolton." But you never know, regime change might become popular again. A ground force in Iran might suddenly become urgently necessary! The idiot Bush-era foreign policy experts might suddenly decide that it wouldn't be that hard to invade and occupy. The Iranian people would probably greet us as liberators! That same weird bloodthirsty hysteria that gripped the political elite in 2002-2003 might return, especially if Iran successfully sinks an American ship or blows up a plane or a helicopter during our totally righteous strike on their nuclear facilities -- or, god forbid, if there's a terrorist attack in the U.S. that can be credibly blamed on Hezbollah. Under the standard proposed for an invasion by Gen. Shinseki prior to the Iraq war, we'd need a good 1.4 million troops to properly invade Iran. Of course, Romney's Pentagon and White House will be stocked with exactly the sort of people who ignored Gen. Shinseki prior to Iraq, so it'd probably only be a couple hundred thousand. But basically mass, widespread death and terror would result, just like Iraq only much, much more so.

Remember: John Bolton isn't just being kept around for show. Romney actually listens to the guy. Romney's selection of moderate Robert Zoellick for his transition team led to so much howling from the hawks that his mouthpiece is basically promising Zoellick won't have an important role in a Romney administration. But we can expect a big job for Dan Senor, the man who instantly went from unqualified idiot political hack appointee to Respected Foreign Policy Expert the day Bush sent him to lie on behalf of the disastrously incompetent provisional government in post-invasion Iraq.

Let's also not forget that former longtime CIA spook Cofer Black -- who was vice chairman of Blackwater for three years -- is Romney's "envoy to the dark side." Black was at the CIA while plans for extraordinary rendition were drawn up and the fact that he was at Blackwater at all should tell you what sort of principles the guy has.

The National Journal also says Michael "Warrantless Surveillance" Hayden could be the director of national intelligence or homeland security secretary in a Romney administration, so we have that to look forward to, too. (Also, Mitt will bring back torture. He will bring it back so hard.)

Also, from Jennifer Rubin: "Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who caucuses with the Democrats, is frequently mentioned for the secretary of state job." Ah yes, a wonderful option if you want some "bipartisan credibility" for your plan to wage endless global war forever.

The Courts

Jonathan Bernstein sums it up:

If Romney wins the presidency and holds it for eight years, he very likely would replace not only moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy (born in 1936) with someone closer to Alito, but he also would probably have the chance to replace either Ginsburg (born in 1933) or Stephen Breyer (1938). On the other hand, if Obama wins, it’s possible that he could wind up replacing at least one conservative justice, perhaps Kennedy or Antonin Scalia (also 1936).

Scalia is obviously not going to purposefully allow a Democrat to replace him, but he's quite old, and he may not have a choice. (Not that I'm wishing Antonin Scalia anything but the best!) Ginsburg is even older, and it's extremely unlikely that she'd remain in place through two terms of Mitt Romney.

Basically one more conservative vote means the effective end of Roe v. Wade and the Commerce Clause. Replacing Breyer and Ginsburg with conservatives would possibly mean the end of the entire New Deal regulatory state. Three Romney appointees would mean conservative control of the Court for decades.

And there is every reason to suspect that Romney will pick judges who'll vote like Scalia. That is the sort of person Republicans appoint now, while Democrats appoint squishy mainstream moderate liberals that they imagine everyone will be fine with. (And if Republicans control the Senate during a Romney presidency, haha, sorry, we're going back to 1896.)

That's just the Supreme Court. Reagan's lower court judges profoundly changed American politics, and they continue to do so today. George W. Bush appointed more circuit and appeals court judges than Clinton, and so far Obama is on track to have appointed the fewest since Ford. These judges have a tremendous amount of power, and they will use it to strengthen the power of corporations at the expense of individuals, the environment, and communities every step of the way. (Plus, obviously, on criminal justice they will be universally pro-prosecutor and basically ensure that our horribly broken system keeps systematically locking up as many young black men as possible.)

The Environment

It's not like President Obama will actually manage to avert catastrophic climate change in his second term, considering the many barriers to the sort of action required to actually help the problem, but it is safe to say that Romney will do less.

The EPA's new fuel efficiency standards probably wouldn't end up surviving. And the EPA certainly won't be regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act in a Romney administration. And no more investment in clean, renewable energy sources. And Keystone's getting built (probably either way, actually). Basically instead of half-measures that won't come close to addressing the problem, we will get actively harmful policies, most likely.

The Federal Budget

If you hate the deficit, you will ... probably ignore those professed beliefs as you defend a president who spends ever more on defense and also slashes taxes, primarily on rich people. Just like the last Republican president! And their Messiah, Ronald Reagan.

If you hate government spending on social programs, you'll find stuff to like: Unlike Bush, with his squishy "compassionate conservative" aisle-crossing education and healthcare initiatives, Romney will cheerfully eliminate "Obamacare" and destroy Medicaid by handing it to states that plan to spend as little money on it as possible.

And of course there will be this fiscal cliff issue. The can will be kicked, in the event of a Romney victory, to the next Congress, so that the Romney administration can implement its grand deficit reduction plan. It's plausible that a Romney victory would lead to Senate Democrats showing more spine on "entitlements" than they are willing to while a Democrat is in the White House, but it's also possible that they'll be desperate to appear bipartisan. So: Social Security retirement age raised, most definitely, and lord only knows what happens to Medicare.

Eventually the new equivalent of the Ryan plan will pass. It will just be a matter of time.

The Economy

It will continue to suck! Horribly! For everyone!

In conclusion: We'll be at war and pretty soon there won't be any more Medicare or Social Security plus the rich will keep getting richer and abortion will be illegal in most of the country. Happy Halloween!

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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2012 Elections Iran Mitt Romney Politics