In contrast, Romney is seeking — and at best, will have to settle for — grudging acceptance from skeptical Republicans. As president, he would be on permanent probation because he lacks fundamental strength with a GOP base that is decidedly more hard-line than it was during the Reagan era. Romney more closely resembles the first George Bush, who, after courageously recognizing the fiscal folly of his famous pledge of “no new taxes,” was harried and wounded by Pat Buchanan in the 1992 Republican primaries. Bush had been Reagan’s vice president, his natural successor, but like Romney now, Bush senior faced a wall of conservative skepticism, both when he lost the nomination in 1980 and when he finally won it in 1988. Then he violated his parole by agreeing to a tax increase. Romney knows this history, and would not choose to repeat it. As president, he would not be that Bush. He would have to be the anti-Reagan — because he would not be less right wing, but more reliably and inflexibly just that, incapable of dispensing with his party’s dogma where and when it was wrong.

So it’s time to rethink the comforting, conventional wisdom that Romney doesn’t mean all the stuff he says, that underneath it there’s a streak of moderation which he would bring to the presidency. It’s a backhanded compliment which treats the candidate’s insincerity as a kind of insurance policy against his own professed convictions. In fact, and almost certainly, Romney would govern as he campaigns, no matter what he actually believes. That’s why the rest of us should be afraid of what Mitt Romney’s America would look like.

In Mitt Romney’s America, unemployment could escalate — or soar — as he prematurely slashed the budget and drained demand from a fragile economy. His long-term fiscal policy — which tracks Rep. Paul Ryan’s draconian model — could turn the next recession into a depression; it would shred the social safety net and devastate programs ranging from college loans to research and development and environmental protections. (Listen to the cheers from the science-denying fringe.) The wealthy would never be asked to pay their fair share by a president who would never risk alienating Grover Norquist. And Romney’s enmity toward regulation would invite a repetition of the 2008 financial crash.