JONATHAN CHAIT FEBRUARY 1, 2011
There's a mini-boom in smart guys trying to explain why Mitt Romney might not be dead after all. Josh Green says the Huntsman campaign will rescue, or at least not hurt, Romney:
The cognoscenti seem to agree that a Jon Huntsman run for the 2012 GOP nomination would hurt Mitt Romney because it would split Mormon votes, fundraising, etc. But wouldn't it also help Romney in the one area where he is most vulnerable, the perception that he's too liberal and untrustworthy because he enacted a health care plan nearly identical to Obama's? Just as you never want to be the last guy picked for your grade-school kickball team, GOP presidential hopefuls never want to be "the guy closest to Obama." From the perspective of a Republican primary voter, Hunstman would seem to me to be the worse of the two, and that couldn't help but take some heat off of Romney. Picture the first Republican debate with all the candidates stretched across a stage. Someone dings Romney on health care. With Huntsman on stage, he could piously say to the audience that at least he neverworked for Obama.
Josh says at the outset he's not sure he believes this, and I think he should trust that instinct. When you're defending yourself in politics, you're losing. If Charlie Rangel wanted to run for president, would he be better off if Bernie Madoff were also running, so he would look honest by comparison? No, you want to avoid anything that raises the question of your loyalty to the party. Arguing that you're less traitorous than some other, marginal figure is not a helpful strategy.
Meanwhile, Ben Smith argues:
During last year's debate, Romney struggled to distinguish the Massachusetts plan, which his spokesman called his "signature" accomplishment as governor -- with its exchange, mandates, and subsidies -- from a federal plan that shared its policy pedigree and had obviously been constructed along the same lines.
One of Romney's weak arguments was that the Massachusetts plan was fundamentally different, as a matter of policy, because it had been enacted on a state rather than federal level. The argument got little traction and Romney, after an effort in the Spring of 2010 to explain his record, simply fell silent.
Romney's argument is now much stronger. Because the main objection to ObamaCare, as its critics call it, is no longer a matter of policy nuance. Now critics primarily make the case that it's an unconstitutional expansion of specifically federal power. And on that turf, the similar structure of the plans doesn't matter. Romney enacted his at a state level, and states have -- conservatives argue -- more power to regulate the insurance industry, as they do with car insurance.
Well, this assumes that the Republican objection to the Affordable Care Act hinges upon the legal arguments being mustered against it. That seems like a pretty shaky assumption to me. Republicans don't think the PPACA is a decent policy that just happens to violate the Constitution. They think it's an abomination, and the legal challenge is simply one tool they're using to attack it. Romney can say that his Massachusetts plan comports with the GOP's legal argument, but I'd rather be advising the candidate who gets to ridicule that distinction than be advising the one who has to make it.