Far too much of the campaign season so far has revolved around trivia. That's largely Barack Obama's fault. Obama wants to see more of Mitt's tax returns. Who cares? Obama's rich, but Mitt's really rich; so we should hate him because he has more money than we do -- or something. After Mitt left Bain, some company went bust, some random guy lost his health care and later got it back, but it wasn't as good as it was at Bain; so Mitt killed his wife somehow or another? On the other hand, while Mitt's campaign has at least focused on meaningful issues, the ad dollars have mostly been spent highlighting the sea of incompetence that has been Barack Obama's first four years in the White House, as opposed to what Romney would do when he gets elected. On top of that, neither candidate has exactly been a model of consistency when it comes to his views. So, it's worth asking the question: What will be different if Mitt Romney defeats Barack Obama?
1) Businesses will feel more comfortable hiring and spending money: As William Henry Harrison noted, "The prudent capitalist will never adventure his capital... if there exists a state of uncertainty as to whether the government will repeal tomorrow what it has enacted today." Barack Obama has introduced just that kind of uncertainty into the economy with his demonization of business, Obamacare, the fiscal cliff, and the threat of tax increases in his second term. That's why American corporations have piled up record cash reserves instead of using that money to increase production and hire new workers. Romney will be business-friendly, will oppose tax hikes, cut regulations, and reassure these companies that they're not going to be under attack for the next four years. In and of itself, that should significantly improve the economy and help create jobs.
2) Obamacare will be gutted: Obamacare is essentially Romneycare writ large and if Mitt were perfectly honest, he'd probably tell you that he thinks there's a lot to like in the plan. While there's always an outside chance that Mitt might be looking for some way to save Obamacare, he has gone so far out on a limb to condemn the unpopular plan that there would be serious political ramifications if he doesn't pull the trigger when the time comes. So, whether Obamacare will ultimately live or die on the vine seems likely to depend on who wins in November.
3) Taking a crack at entitlement reform may be tackled: It is impossible for the United States to get its spending under control without real entitlement reform and Barack Obama has chosen to demagogue the issue instead of making a serious attempt to fix the problem. Whether Romney could pull it off is up in the air because realistically, without some Democratic cooperation, it's not going to be possible to reform Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Still, when someone as cautious as Mitt Romney makes the politically risky decision to embrace Paul Ryan's plan, it means something. Mitt may not be able to push through entitlement reform, but if it’s passed in the next four years, he’ll deserve the lion’s share of the credit.
4) Taxes are more likely to go down than up: If Barack Obama is reelected, we can be sure that he will push a number of new tax increases and there are signs that the Republican Party is starting to soften its position on the issue. On the other hand, Mitt Romney is likely to push cuts to the marginal tax rate, the death tax, and the corporate tax rate in an effort to stimulate economic growth. That doesn't mean it's impossible that we could see a tax increase because Democrats are likely to demand higher taxes in return for their cooperation on any sort of serious entitlement reform or deficit reduction plan. However, Obama would be likely to raise taxes significantly in his second term, while Romney would be much more likely to cut them.
5) The Supreme Court may move to the right: Currently, we have four doctrinaire liberals on the Supreme Court (Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Breyer), three originalist conservatives (Alito, Thomas, Scalia), and two right leaning moderates (Roberts, Kennedy). After looking at that precarious balance, consider that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 79, Antonin Scalia is 76, Anthony Kennedy is 75, and Stephen Breyer is 73. What that means is that depending on who retires, a single appointment has the potential to lead to a historic shift on the Court. Given the buzzsaw that George W. Bush ran into when he tried to appoint Harriet Miers, Mitt Romney has very little room to maneuver here. Appointing candidates that the base believes are originalists will be a necessity and then we'll face the same crapshoot that we always do with conservative judges: Will they stay true to the law or move to the left?