The U.S. Government is still hurtling towards the "fiscal cliff." For all the bipartisan rhetoric, the political fundamentals look largely unaltered. The cost of government dysfunction is suddenly, horribly clear. Gridlock equals austerity.
Both sides are hemmed in by political circumstance: Each has a base to tend. But the politics is hardest for the Republicans. On paper this should not be the case. After all, the GOP urgently needs to appear less extreme. But the Republican Party, like all political parties everywhere in the world, does not operate as a single organism. It is not a hive mind. It consists of smart, ruthless individuals.
And any ambitious Republican will find it hard to compromise with the president -- because Republican voters hate him. An excellent post-election poll released today (FRI) by the Public Religion Research Institute shows the depth of anti-Obama feeling. Most Democrat voters (76 percent) cast their ballots as a sign of support for the president, with just 13 percent saying their main motive was to block Romney. But only one in two Republicans voted primarily in support of Romney, and almost four in ten (37 percent) said their vote was 'a vote against Obama.'
These voters are the ones who will decide their standard bearer in 2016. So any Republican considering a run at higher office cannot afford to be seen collaborating with Obama. As far as the GOP base is concerned, that would be a deal with the devil.
Imagine the roasting they will get in the 2016 primaries.
And yet the country cries out for compromise. In private, leading Republicans can no doubt see the outlines of an acceptable deal.
But there is a solution. A big-name Republican has to take a bullet for bipartisanship. To become the face of compromise and so act as a lightning conductor for the inevitable rage of the base when it becomes necessary, for example, to give way on taxes on the wealthy. This person will act as a political human shield for their colleagues in congress, allowing them to get the deal done without taking the flak.
The ideal candidate for this role will already be a national figure, who will not seek elected office again. Somebody anxious to win a place on the pantheon of statesmen. Who needs, perhaps, to do something bold and surprising to prevent their name sliding into the footnotes of history. Who has preached the virtues of bipartisanship and 'working across the aisle.' A person who, whatever their political failings, is seen as a person of integrity.
This person could spring the GOP from its own political trap, and ensure that the country avoids the cliff. You know who you are. Step forward, Mitt Romney.