JONATHAN CHAIT OCTOBER 6, 2010
Politico has a good piece today on a subject I've been banging on for a while -- the mortal blowinflicted upon Mitt Romney's presidential hopes by the health care debate. In 2008, a system consisting of a regulated individual markets, an individual mandate, and subsidies for low-income workers was considered a perfectly sensible thing for a conservative Republican to have supported. Romney boasted about it on the campaign trail and took essentially no flack for it. Now, such a system is The Death Of Freedom.
The further problem is that the 2008 version of Romney was itself a radical remaking of his prior political identity. Romney took a great deal of abuse for his shift, but ultimately conservatives swallowed it, and he emerged from 2008 in a strong position. His post-election speech to the CPAC positioned him as a front-runner. But now health care has killed it. The Politico story quotes some conservatives demanding Romney apologize. He can't do that, of course, without raising all the flip-flopper questions that haunted him four years before.
Here, via Politico, is the bright side for Romney:
Romney could get a break, if public opinion on the law ticks upward, as Democrats once said it would, and if independent voters begin to view it as a positive.
In 2008, the Massachusetts law fit into his personal narrative as a can-do candidate, one who is skilled at taking on intractable problems – such as health care and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Despite criticism from his Republican opponents in 2008, Romney still drew applause on the campaign trail when he mentioned the legislative achievement. And at a time when economic issues dominate, Romney’s background as a businessman could prove most important.
Not very bright, huh? Romney's problem on this issue isn't with independents. It's with the GOP base.
I'd also be curious to hear from some conservatives about how they see this. In 2008, nearly all of them were fine with Romney's health care plan. (National Review endorsed Romney for president.) Now, to a man, nearly all of them believe the imposition of a regulate/subsidize/mandate scheme represents one of the worst catastrophes in American history. How do they account for their dramatic change of mind? Were conservatives all simply wrong and ignorant in 2008, and now they've opened their eyes? Or is something else at work?