Romney on Romneycare is a Bust

Conservatives are not buying Mitt’s Michigan speech

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took to a stage in Ann Arbor yesterday to twist and turn his way through the “Obamacare”-“Romneycare” dilemma—that tricky quandary in which Romney must come out against the Affordable Health Act while dealing with the fact that he instituted a similar plan in Massachusetts five years ago. Here’s how Romney handles the problem, as reported by The New York Times:

“Our plan was a state solution to a state problem,” he said while walking his audience through a corporate-style slide presentation, “and his was a power grab by the federal government to put in place a one-size-fits-all plan across the nation.”

He stood by the idea of an individual mandate, but not on a national level.

Those who have been reading op-eds in the conservative media about Romney and his health care problem, will likely be unsurprised that a day after the speech many on the right are calling it a political disaster. Well, to be fair, Jonah Goldberg has called it “a sincere, intelligent, cogent, informed political disaster.”

Harshest among the right’s Romney critics might have been The National Review’s Avik Roy, who headlined his piece on the speech “Mitt Romney’s Illogical, Terrible Health-Care Address.” Not only did Romney fail to distinguish his plan from Obama’s, Roy argued, he may have done the president some favors; Romney “have a more articulate defense of Obamacare than President Obama ever has,” he writes. He goes on:

His effort to make a distinction between Romneycare and Obamacare was not persuasive: If anything, he convincingly made the opposite case, that Romneycare and Obamacare are based on the same fundamental concept.

That was the gist of commentary coming out of many conservative corners today, including The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis, who appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to declare Romney’s Ann Arbor performance “bad policy” and “horrible politics.” Lewis compared the twisty-turny logic Romney uses around the health care issue to a guy telling his girlfriend that she doesn’t look fat, but that the dress she’s wearing does.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board—which has been so consistently tough on Romney on this issue that he sent them this letter—described the candidate’s position as “intellectually indefensible” in an editorial that winds up by smarting that Romney hasn’t taken any of their advice so far. The writers opt for an Evel Knievel analogy over the rotund girlfriend in addressing the speech.

The likely Republican Presidential candidate fulfilled the White House’s fondest wishes, defending the mandate-subsidize-overregulate program he enacted as Massachusetts Governor in 2006 even as he denounced President Obama’s national reprise. He then proposed his own U.S. reform that is sensible and might do so some actual good, but which also runs against the other two plans. These are unbridgeable policy and philosophical differences, though Mr. Romney is nonetheless trying to leap over them like Evel Knievel heading for the Snake River Canyon.

But if Massachusetts is the triumph that Mr. Romney claimed yesterday, well, what’s the problem with Washington exporting the same successful model? If an individual mandate to purchase health insurance was indispensable in the Bay State, as Mr. Romney argued, why isn’t it necessary in every other state too?

No matter the cogency of Romney’s arguments in the coming year, that’s a pretty clear and difficult question to grapple with.

But for Jay Cost at The Weekly Standard, health care history isn’t as significant perhaps as political history. Cost goes over the familiar story of the GOP’s move away from the northeastern moderates—a candidate aligned with that wing hasn’t won the nomination since 1960, says Cost—and says Romney will struggle because of his time as Massachusetts governor. Back then:

Mitt, coming as he does from the liberal Bay State, was faced with a very difficult choice: either govern as a bona fide conservative and get nothing done as governor, or tack to the center as a Northeastern-style Republican and push the policy needle as far to the right as lefty Massachusetts (the only state to back McGovern in 1972!) would allow.

This is a near-impossible bind for any politician. It’s fair to say Romney was damned if he did (govern Massachusetts the way that state prefers and suffer with the conservative base) and damned if he didn’t (let Massachusetts grind to a halt, win the affection of the base, but take heat in the general election as a failed leader who put ideology over governance).

Now it seems Romney—at least among members of the right-wing press—is damned because he did.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , , , ,