More important, a close look at the composition of both the Senate and the House suggest the numbers would be there for Romney to pass some combination of spending cuts and the closing of tax loopholes, as he called for in the 2012 campaign. In the Senate, Romney probably would have courted the 12 red-state Senate Democrats, six of whom are up for reelection in 2014, to support some type of compromise. In the House, his task would be winning over recalcitrant conservatives. If House Democrats were united in opposition, he could afford 17 GOP defections, probably more if the few remaining moderate Democrats joined with the GOP. It’s a little bit easier to do when your party holds the White House, as opposed to fighting in the minority.

The point of the thought experiment isn’t to relive the Romney campaign but to demonstrate there was a very plausible path for a Republican president to win support for a middle-ground budget proposal. The Senate has more red-state Democrats than blue-state Republicans, and most of them are up for reelection. These same Democrats who are giving Obama trouble on gun control would be looking to cut a fiscal deal as they prepare for reelection. Win over just five of them, hold enough House Republicans in line, and voila – there’s the bipartisan compromise. It wouldn’t be easy, but it doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out the contours of such a deal.