Romney's potential rocky relationship with Congress

Mitt Romney headshot over capital dome CBS/AP

(CBS News) If Mitt Romney wins the presidency, his closest governing partners - Congress - could quickly become either his allies or his adversaries. Even with a Republican majority in Congress, a unified government can quickly become a coalition of the willing or battle for survival with no guarantee Romney will be able to implement everything he wants. Why? Most importantly, it's because Republicans in Congress continue to shift to the right and they might not always agree with Romney's moderate ways.

"The nature of the Republican Party is more conservative," Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said in an interview Monday.

While the Republicans' prospects of taking over the Senate are up in the air, across the Capitol in the House, it is very likely that the party will maintain control with fewer moderates and a much more conservative mindset. Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, anticipated this and when he announced his retirement last month he said he was leaving office because "the reality that exists in the House of Representatives no longer encourages the finding of common ground" as a reason for his exit.

2010 was the beginning of this rightward shift, Sabato points out, as many Tea Party-backed candidates won, helping Republicans pick up 89 seats. And this year, Republicans winning primaries across the country are more conservative. In two high-profile intraparty Senate primaries this year, Tea Party-favorite Ted Cruz won the GOP nod in the race to replace moderate Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Richard Mourdock beat long-time moderate Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana for the Republican nomination there. Both candidates are heavily favored to win in November.

A more conservative Congress will "make it very difficult for Romney," American University congressional historian Allan Lichtman told CBSNews.com. Licthman argued that a conservative Congress intent on maintaining their all-or-nothing approach can be a challenge for a president. Governing is more "very difficult," Lichtman said, and the president's relationship with Congress either "creates a lot of havoc in the party or goes along" with the party. In other words, Romney would have to choose if he will lead or be led.

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His only track record as a political leader is his time as Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2007. In one of the most Democratic states in the country with a heavily Democratic legislature, Romney governed from the center. He passed a health care mandate and raised $700 million of revenue through additional fees and taxes. These past positions are ones that Romney has taken great pains to avoid during his campaign.

A conservative Congress "could push Romney to the right," Lichtman argued, saying he could take the "path of least resistance." He says Romney has "not been someone who's taken strong stance on principles," indicating that he might be easily persuaded to listen to political whims and govern from the right.

During the primaries, Romney was like many candidates from both parties and took positions that appealed to the party faithful. Since he clinched the nomination in April, Romney has deliberately avoided giving detailed specifics of his policies or how he will govern while he has spent much less time discussing red meat, conservative issues.

"The last thing you want to be is at odds with your own party," Licthman said.

"We will be looking to the president for the leadership that President Obama lacks," Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., told CBSNews.com. She is "incredibly optimistic" that Romney will fall in line with Congressional conservatives.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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