It’s often revealing to turn conventional wisdom on its head and see what’s really hidden underneath. You’ve all heard it, I’m sure, that RomneyCare is Mitt’s doom, an albatross around his neck, his biggest weakness as a potential candidate. In Part 1 of this series I detailed not only how grave some people feel this issue is for Romney’s chances, but also pointed out that Obama and his team of key operatives (Axelrod, Gibbs, and Daley) are all praising RomneyCare as ObamaCare’s predecessor in an effort to hurt Mitt with the GOP’s conservative and libertarian bases. However, below I present what a great asset and strength Romney’s history and experience with health care will be to him as a general election candidate against Obama.
Yes . . . for the purposes of this post I am skipping the GOP primary altogether and how health care will effect that outcome. Don’t worry, I will address those issues thoroughly in later installments of this series. But sometimes it’s important to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the carrot at the end of the stick, to give a proper and more accurate assessment of the situation one is currently in. Winning the GOP nomination and imagining how well Mitt could tackle Obama on health care is that light/pot/carrot. Some Mitt fans or fence-sitters may be guilty of hand wringing and fretting over how RomneyCare might really be the big problem that so many are saying it will be. This post is for you folks in particular.
First off, it’s always wise to take a step back and look at the big picture. Health Care promises to be a big topic in the upcoming 2012 presidential election no doubt . . . but I can guarantee that it will not be the biggest. It never has been the number one issue on people’s minds and I see no reason for that to change (“It’s the Economy Stupid!“). The Exit polls from our most recent election cycle show “The Economy” dominating voter’s hearts and minds:
The economy isn’t just the most important issue to voters this year . . . it’s roughly twice as important to them as the other top issues of concern combined . . . Sixty-two percent of voters name the economy as their most important issue this year. Health care ranks a distant second, at 19 percent. Illegal immigration and Afghanistan follow at 8 and 7 percent.
The 2008 Presidential exit polls also showed that “The Economy” was far and away the biggest issue on people’s minds.
The economy dominated voters’ concerns at historical levels in the presidential election . . . Fully 62 percent of voters said the economy was the most important issue, six times more than cited the war in Iraq (10 percent), health care (9 percent) or terrorism (9 percent)
“The Economy” topped the 2004 presidental exit polls , and it was, again, more than triple the importance of “Health Care” in the 2000 exit polls (26% vs 8%). And, lest you think I’m quoting outdated info, Gallup release poll results earlier this month confirming the currency of these sentiments. “Unemployment” and “The Economy in General” totaled 64% while “Health Care” was only 16%. And in the crosstabs of all these polls, “Health Care” is consistently a top issue for more Democrats than either Independents or Republicans. The Gallup poll showed it being the top issue of only 13% of Independents and 13% of Republicans, compared to 24% of Democrats. That split along political affiliation is important as each nominee works to bring the Independent voters into the fold while keeping their base.
I think it’s plain to see that the GOP needs a nominee with “street cred” on economic issues, and there is no one better than Mitt Romney in this regard. Hypothetically, even if Romney were the worst candidate the GOP could put up against Obama on the issue of Health Care, his economic bona fides would “cover a multitude of [health care] sins.” There are others who also take the perspective that Romney will likely get a “pass” on health care from much of the GOP base because of the other strengths he brings to the table (article titled “Don’t count on health care ruining Romney in ’12” and, yes, it’s from Salon and is written from a snarky liberal perspective, but it makes some good points none the less). However, I’m sticking to my guns and, as I said before, I aim to prove that Romney is actually the best nominee to go toe-to-toe with Obama on the issue of Health Care.
I read with great joy the ruling out of Florida declaring ObamaCare unconstitutional on grounds of “Federalism;” the 10th Amendment Constitutional guaranteed that states reserve all powers not specifically granted to the Federal government. It is looking promising that the Supreme Court will uphold this ruling. Assuming this happens, the GOP nominee will have to be someone who has not only supported the idea of federalism for Health Care, but has put it into practice. Mitt has consistently and forcefully denounced ObamaCare (while largely supporting RomneyCare) on grounds of Federalism. He’s said from the beginning that RomneyCare was something crafted for Massachusetts and would not work for the whole country (nor should it be implemented federally even if it would work)
Why is this important? Imagine if Mike Huckabee were the GOP nominee. A DNC attack ad could run: “Mike Huckabee says that he supports the Supreme Court’s overturning of the health care law. He agrees with the ruling that the federal government shouldn’t try to fix heath care because that’s the responsibilities of the states. But Governor Huckabee did nothing to improve the health care coverage of his people in the state of Arkansas during over 10 years at the helm. If he couldn’t improve health care in a state as small as Arkansas, why would the American people trust him to fix health care problems nationally?” Obama could play the victim during a debate claiming that the States have been derelict in their duty to fix health care problems and could jibe “Mike, you’re at fault for that!” Obviously, the same could be said of most of the other serious potential candidates seeing that the were governors as well: Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Gov. Sarah Palin, Gov. Mitch Daniels, Gov. Christ Christie, Gov. Jeb Bush, etc . . . but not of Gov. Mitt Romney.
In fact, whether or not ObamaCare is declared unconstitutional, Obama could argue that these governors were actually responsible for ObamaCare happening in the first place because they did nothing substantial to fix health care during their tenures in their own states; that therefore, the Federal government had to step in and act to avert crisis. That’s a much more substantial and potentially damaging argument than “ObamaCare and RomneyCare are similar so Romney is a hypocrite to reject one and embrace the other,” wouldn’t you say?
Whether or not ObamaCare gets ruled unconstitutional, Romney stands on the best grounds to go toe to toe with Obama in a Presidential debate. After Obama expresses disbelief that Romney could be against ObamaCare since it’s so similar to RomneyCare, Mitt could retort:
“You keep saying the law was crafted after ours in Massachusetts, but neither you, nor any Democratic leaders in congress (Pelosi/Reid) even so much as gave me a call or asked my opinion about what was working and what wasn’t. If you’re going to use something as a template, common sense says that you do your due diligence in assuring that the template is adequate and functional. If you were using my law as a template, why did you never contact me to discuss it? “
Romney has shared this idea before in an interview:
Q: There are obvious similarities between ObamaCare and what you did in Massachusetts. Do you acknowledge that what you did in Massachusetts has become a model for nation under Obama, whether you wanted it to or not?
A: I can’t speak for what the president has done. I don’t know what he looks at. He never gave me a call. Neither he nor any of his colleagues [gave me] a call to ask what worked and did not work, and how would they improve upon it and so forth. If what was done at the state level, they applied at the federal level, they made a mistake. It was not designed for the nation.
Potentially the most powerful and effective tactic Romney could use is to turn the tables on Obama and point out how fiscally irresponsible it was to pass such large and sweeping legislation during a time of “double-digit unemployment, economic crisis, and record-setting federal deficits.” That he was ramming through a partisan and liberal bill with no honest or realistic foresight to it’s long-term economic implications. After sourcing warnings, statistics and estimates of ObamaCare’s ever-expanding cost projections (including the CBO’s projection that it will cost 800,000 jobs and the “fuzzy math” used to estimate the bill’s costs), Romney could say:
“Mr. President, where is the money coming to pay for ObamaCare? From your “stash?” Your version of health care reform won’t balance the budget, it will break the bank and bankrupt businesses! I would never sign a bill that was projected to put nearly one million Americans out of work and I’m disappointed that you did.”
Romney will be effective at turning “Health Care” into an economic issue and this will hit home with voters more than any perceived “inconsistency” between ObamaCare vs. RomneyCare. Remember, “It’s the economy stupid!”
Romney could also effectively highlight his own differences in leadership and procedure in reforming Health Care between Massachusetts compared to what Obama did for his plan (this will be expounded upon and sourced in great more depth in a separate and forthcoming installment). Mitt could draw a powerful contrast in a debate as such:
When we reformed Health Care in Massachusetts we spent two years working toward a consensus. We had overwhelming public opinion support, input from the entire political spectrum (From The Heritage Foundation to Ted Kennedy), and finally passed a 72 page bill with a vote of 198-2 in the state legislature . . . getting whopping majorities from Republican, Democratic, and Independent lawmakers.
Contrast that to the bill you rammed through Congress in a matter of a few weeks and foisted upon the American people . . . a 2,700 page monstrosity that we were told would have to be passed before we could know what’s in it. A bill that squeaked through Congress by the slimmest of margins (219-212; meaning that it would have failed if only four Representatives had voted differently) only after well-documented strong-arming and promised political favors . . . all this with not a single Republican voting in favor of it and 34 members of your own party voting against it. A bill that is a ugly stain on the fabric of our nation both for the ends that it aims to achieve AND the means by which it became law.
Mr President, based on the current unpopularity of your bill, and, in light of the 2010 repudiation of your party at the ballot box, I think it’s clear which type of leadership the American people prefer. Leadership that is deliberate and wise, that is not in a rush to score a political victory no matter the cost, that respects their voices and works for THEIR best interests. Wouldn’t you agree?
One other advantage Romney has is that he would never be “out of his depth” while discussing matters of health care. I can think of some potential nominees who might be. Mitt is more versed on this issue in knowledge and in experience than anyone else the GOP has to offer. To boot, Romney always comes off as competent and knowledgeable in interviews and debates . . . especially when he’s discussing core issues such as economics or health care.
You see, all the other potential GOP nominees may be able to cast stones at Obama’s attempt at health care reform from their seats on the sidelines. They will be able to make some solid arguments for sure. But, Romney has “skin in the game” on health care and won’t come off as simply a critic who has no better alternative to point towards. He is someone who can and will personalize his objections to ObamaCare by drawing contrasts to his own plan and his own experience. This will resonate with voters and it will make Romney, hands down, the best GOP nominee to debate Obama on health care.
Jeff Fuller, M.D.