An interesting op ed piece appeared on Politico today from Paul Goldman and Mark J. Rozell, posing the question whether “Romneycare” is an asset or liability for Mitt. They conclude the former.
The traditional analysis, which has become the sole remaining justification for a Rick Santorum candidacy, is that Mitt Romney’s being the author of Romneycare somehow disqualifies him from pointing out the flaws in Obamacare in the general election. But the op ed authors take exception to the traditional analysis:
This conservative faith is wrong, however. To the extent that attacks on President Barack Obama’s health care reform are good politics, the candidate best able to make them is Mitt Romney.
Since he orchestrated and then signed the Massachusetts health care law, Romney is uniquely qualified to lead the GOP attacks against the federal health care reform bill.
Why would Mitt be uniquely qualified?
He would be the first GOP nominee in nearly 50 years with a proven track record on health care who has been praised by Democrats — including the president — as fair and compassionate. He can’t be demonized as an out-of-touch, uncompassionate, hard-right ideologue on this issue.
Americans have been telling pollsters since 1965 that they favor Democrats over Republicans when asked whom they trust on health care issues. That was when President Lyndon B. Johnson and congressional Democrats passed the historic Medicare program — over the objections of many high-profile Republican opponents, including future President Ronald Reagan.
This political landscape meant GOP presidential nominees have regularly been put on the defensive, sometimes even demonized, on health care issues. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are typical in this regard.
Romney is the exception.
If you want evidence that Rick Santorum, rightly or wrongly, will be demonized on healthcare issues, witness the left’s response to his criticism of Obamacare’s contraception mandates. Santorum’s prior statements against contraception generally made it easy for the media and the left to paint him as out of touch, even in the face of a legitimate debate about the propriety of a Federal mandate. He was called “anachronistic” and from a prior decade or even century. The ability to have a reasoned debate was severely limited.
Mitt’s prior accomplishments reduce the left’s ability to pursue the same tactic. The authors call this the “Nixon Goes to China” phenomenon. It’s a way of taking away your opponent’s best argument. Nixon, for example, had been particularly tough on communism, so no one could criticize him for being “soft” when later visiting China. Reagan was known for being against big government and taxes, and therefore could not be criticized as being a closet liberal when he increased the gas and Social Security taxes. Clinton was able to reform welfare in a way a Republican president could not, because no one would accuse him of being ideologically against welfare. There are other examples not in the op ed piece: Obama’s 2008 criticisms of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility pretty well inoculated him against attacks from the left for leaving it open, despite campaign promises to the contrary. No one mistakes Obama for a fan, so he gets the benefit of the doubt of having a good reason for keeping it open.
The lesson for repealing Obamacare in 2012 is similar. Santorum’s calls to do so will be labeled by the Democrats as partisan, uncaring and out of touch. In this author’s view, as a result Santorum’s fight against Obamacare is therefore much less likely to be effective, and would burn a significant amount of political capital. Not so with Mitt, who has thoughtfully designed and implemented health care reform in the past. No one can mistake him as being an anti-reform ideologue. If he is against the idea, he is more likely to get the benefit of the doubt of possibly having a reasoned position as to why.
The Obama campaign has one overriding aim — paint any GOP nominee as out of touch with the problems facing average Americans. “Romneycare” presents a problem for this narrative. If the former head of Bain Capital is allegedly the “same ole” GOP rich guy worshipping at the altar of social Darwinism, how does the “compassionate party” explain away using “Romneycare” as a model?
The bottom line is that Democrats cannot dismiss Mitt in the same way they can Santorum. And as usual, political questions are more grey than black and white. Folks voting in the general election, even some in the GOP, may be in favor of retaining parts of Obamacare, even though most agree in general terms that it should be repealed:
… elements of the plan are popular — including coverage of pre-existing conditions or allowing parents’ plans to cover children through age 26. The GOP ticket will have to prove its approach will keep the “good” but do away with the “bad” while voters are bombarded with negative “Don’t trust them” ads from the skilled Obama team.
Building that trust is difficult if the past message has always been a categorical “no.” Mitt’s history makes it impossible for the Democrats’ publicity machine to dismiss Mitt as ignorant, inexperienced or unfeeling on this issue. In fact, there is no better tool than to have someone who has successfully implemented health care reform stand up and say “Mr. President, your version of reform is wrong for the country, and I know why.” Obama has already implicitly recognized Mitt as the expert in this arena. Perhaps it’s time the President took a lesson from him.
The article does not explicitly discuss Mitt’s in-depth knowledge of the healthcare system. It suggests he has experience implementing a plan, but I would add that due to his past analysis of this issue, only Mitt has the experience and the credibility to be able to come up with effective counter-arguments to those of Obama on the debate stage. Santorum appeared especially underprepared to discuss these points in the last GOP debate.
The article concludes by suggesting GOP voters know Mitt is the only Republican candidate that can win this argument:
The conservative elite predicted the health care issue would sink Romney. But GOP primary voters have not rebelled. Indeed, they are clearing the path for Romney’s eventual nomination. We see a message here. Republican voters understand “Romneycare” has flaws and isn’t ideologically doctrinaire. But the elite don’t face the same problems as the many GOP voters who see Romney as a pragmatic governor who tried to solve a pressing problem facing his state.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that at the time of the adoption of Romneycare, it was considered a conservative solution to a state’s particular problems, based in principles of everyone paying their own way and not benefiting from state largesse. Santorum felt comfortable enough with these ideals that in 2008 he endorsed Mitt’s candidacy for president.
Here’s some video from back then in 2008:
But notwithstanding conservatives having changed their tune on this issue, Mitt has not advocated adoption of Romneycare on a national level; in fact he argues strenuously against Obamacare, vowing to repeal it through executive waivers and new legislation beginning day one of a Romney presidency. If we really want to repeal it, Mitt, not Santorum, is the GOP’s best shot.
Notwithstanding Santorum’s stump speeches, Mitt doesn’t give away the issue of Obamacare, he’s the only GOP candidate with a hope of winning it. If you agree with Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum that its repeal is the single most important issue in this election, a vote for Mitt is the best way of ensuring success.