The more aggressive his foreign policy, however, the more it is likely to cost, and the more it will increase federal deficits. George W. Bush faced a similar problem in his first term, and simply arranged with Republicans in Congress to fund his military adventures through supplemental appropriations -- abandoning any pretense of deficit reduction.
To keep the economy afloat, Romney will likely pursue a Keynesian strategy once in office, goosing the economy through a combination of tax cuts and economic stimulus. He will simply choose a different mix than the Democrats would, and call it by another name. Yet this strategy will probably also increase the deficit in the short run and require Romney repeatedly to raise the debt ceiling, risking the ire of the Tea Party.
Romney's advisers have floated the idea that, in order for their leader to make all of the tough choices necessary to solve the country's problems, he should adopt the example of the 19th-century Democrat James K. Polk and be willing to serve for only one term.
Comparing Romney to Polk is both telling and ironic. Telling, because Polk was also an affiliated president -- the second Democrat elected after Andrew Jackson's reconstructive presidency. Just as Romney has promised Republicans that he will follow Ronald Reagan's policies, Polk self-consciously modeled himself after Jackson. Ironic, because Polk's legitimacy as president was often precarious. Polk offered himself as a compromise candidate, and announced that he would serve for only one term, because he wanted to assure the leaders of the various factions in his party that his presidency would not prevent their running in 1848.
Once in office, Polk was not known for making tough choices. He did not seek to stand up to his party's divided factions; instead, he sought to please them all. Polk tried to buy off the various warring elements of the Jacksonian coalition one by one through a combination of fiscal policy, tariff reform, territorial acquisition, and war. Each move created additional political problems. By the end of his term as president, his political situation had become impossible, and he left office a broken man, dying three months later. His policies of territorial expansion, while undoubtedly successful, also led to the tragedy of the Civil War.
If he truly is like Polk, Romney will not be able to make difficult choices in the public interest. Rather, he will find himself hemmed in by the conflicting demands of a radicalized party. Opposition to Barack Obama's presidency unified the Republicans. But once Obama is gone, the various factions of the party will find themselves in fierce competition, and the incoherence of the Republicans' various commitments will emerge starkly.
The predicament of a Romney presidency is that he may make George W. Bush look good by comparison. During most of Bush's eight years in office, the Republican Party was united and willing to follow his lead. Romney will not be so lucky. The party he heads has become so rigid, radical, and unrealistic that, despite his best efforts, he may end up as the last of the Reagan-era Republican leaders -- a disjunctive president like John Quincy Adams, James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover, or Jimmy Carter.