Mitt Romney has been so busy securing his Republican base that he hasn’t had time to court independent voters, the ones who will actually decide this election. But now, probably by accident, he has an opportunity to show them that he’s something other than a slave to his party’s right wing. Will he take it?
When Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul committed the apparently unpardonable sin of praising the health care law Mitt Romney passed as governor of Massachusetts, was she making a horrible mistake that made everyone in Romney headquarters gasp in horror, or was she just reflecting what her candidate actually believes? The answer to that question would tell us where Romney is going to go from here on health care, and whether he may at long last try to find some issue on which he can convince voters he’s something more than a vessel for whatever his party’s right wing wants to do to the country.
Most everyone, myself included, initially assumed that Saul just spoke out of turn. After all, Romney had been trying to avoid any discussion of health care all through the primaries. And from a logical standpoint, there really is no good argument for him to make. Since what Romney did in Massachusetts and what President Obama did with the Affordable Care Act are identical in their major features, either they were both wise policy moves or they were both horrible mistakes, but it just can’t be the case that one was great and the other was a nightmare. That is, in fact, the argument Romney makes when he’s forced to talk about the Massachusetts reform, but you can tell he realizes how absurd what he’s saying is, and he wants to change the subject as soon as possible.
But Noam Scheiber argues that it’s oversimplified to just say that Romney has turned his back on Romneycare in order to assure Republicans that he hates Obamacare as much as they do:
As we await the Romney campaign’s decision about Saul’s fate, it’s worth reflecting on one under-reported aspect of this latest conservative blow-up: Saul was saying precisely what her superiors in the Romney campaign believe, not least of them Mitt Romney.
I spent a lot of time talking to Romney campaign officials while reporting my recent profile of Stuart Stevens, his chief strategist. The unmistakable impression I got from them is that, to this day, Romney remains extremely proud of having passed health care reform in Massachusetts.
And why wouldn’t he be? He approached a difficult problem, then came up with a solution acceptable to both parties, and by all accounts the resulting policy has been a success. There are only a small number of uninsured people left in Massachusetts, and the reform is widely popular within the state. It was without a doubt the most significant accomplishment of Romney’s one term as governor. The fact that he is running a campaign for president in which he dares not mention the best thing he did in the one job he had that was something of a preparation for the job he wants is quite insane.
Of course, it’s one thing for him to be justifiably proud of Romneycare, and it’s another for him to actually talk about it on the campaign trail. If he were to do that, it would require two things he has little desire to do: angering his base, and admitting, at least tacitly, that Barack Obama actually did something right. The former is really the biggest problem; there has not been a single occasion during this campaign (or the one he ran in 2008, for that matter), when Mitt Romney has said or done anything he thought might get the right wing of the Republican party upset. The chances that he’ll start now are slim to none.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 10, 2012
Conservatives picked him, and now they have to live with him.
In the early days of the 2012 Republican primaries, many thoughtful commentators took the position that it was simply impossible for Mitt Romney to win his party’s nomination. Despite all his evident strengths as a candidate—money, the most professionally run campaign in the group, the endorsement of many establishment figures—Romney simply would not find a way to get past the fact that as governor of Massachusetts he had passed a health care plan that became the model for the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans had come to see as the very embodiment of evil in the modern world. The party’s base would never abide it.
Yet he did. Without all that much trouble too. And he didn’t deal with the health care issue through some brilliant strategy, either. He made no dramatic mea culpa, and never repudiated Romneycare, at least not directly. Whenever he was asked about it he would give a convoluted and utterly unconvincing argument about how what he did in Massachusetts was great, though of course it shouldn’t be applied anywhere else, and even though the ACA is almost exactly the same as Romneycare, the latter was a pragmatic and effective policy solution while the former is an abomination so horrific that putting a copy of the bill in the same room as an American flag could cause said flag to burst into flames and be sucked through a demonic portal to the very pits of hell. Democrats shook their heads at the hypocrisy and smiled at Romney’s pain, while Republicans narrowed their eyes and listened skeptically. I feel fairly confident that there was not a single person anywhere who upon hearing Romney try to make these absurd distinctions responded with, “Well that makes sense—I’m convinced.”
And amazingly, it almost seems as if Romney thought he could get through the rest of the campaign without this coming up. Yet come up it did, when his chief campaign flak Andrea Saul responded to an ad from pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA that attacks Romney with the story of the spouse of a worker laid off from a Bain Capital-owned company who died without health insurance by saying, “To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care.” Saul was right, of course—in Massachusetts, as in the rest of the country after the ACA fully takes effect in 2014, losing your job doesn’t mean losing your coverage. But conservatives became apoplectic that the Romney campaign would tout Romney’s greatest achievement as governor and imply that people having secure health insurance might actually be a good thing. The less thoughtful among them insisted that Romney and his team need to be “housebroken.”
All of which, I’m sure, has caused no small amount of panic at Romney headquarters. As I keep saying, it’s just incredible that Romney still has to invest so much energy in keeping his restive base in line. By this time he’s supposed to be going after independent voters, but he can’t, because every time he turns around the right has found a new reason to be mad at him.
But really, Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. Just look at the desiccated husk of a man they’ve turned their nominee into, a candidate terrified of his own shadow, devoid of anything resembling principle, so frantic to morph into whatever anyone wants him to be that there’s barely anything left of him at all. And it isn’t as though he was imposed on them or something–they picked him. Granted, he was running against a truly remarkable collection of nutballs and buffoons; imagine being a Republican and having to explain to someone a few years from now how it came to pass that at various times, your party’s front-running candidate for the presidency of the United States was Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich. But still. In the end Republicans went with Mitt Romney. He’s what they chose, and they should have known that the guy they’re looking at is exactly what they’d get.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 9, 2012