Romney Death Watch

by Jonathan Chait | March 30, 2010

Mitt Romney's old explanation as to why his Massachusetts health care plan bore no resemblance whatsoever to President Obama's was that Obama's plan had a public option. His new explanation is federalist:

“We solved our problem at the state level. Like it or not, it was a state solution. Why is it that President Obama is stepping in and saying ‘one size fits all’ ’’?

Republicans believe that the Affordable Care Act is socialist tyranny. Romney's position is basically that socialist tyranny is okay as long as it's imposed on a state-by-state basis. I don't see this argument winning over the GOP base.

This is why I've been skeptical for a while now about Romney's 2012 prospects. The Atlantic Monthly's Marc Ambinder takes issue with those of us writing off Romney:

That's anchor bias -- the same type of bias that consigned the Democratic majority to history the day after Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts -- the same type of cognitive error that Barney Frank made on the night of Brown's victory when he said, well, maybe we ought to slow down again.  Human beings are very bad at figuring out how long an effect will last, and very bad at predicting how events they cannot anticipate will influence future probabilities.

Actually, I think Ambinder has this backwards. Right now, Romney looks fine -- he has money, name recognition, decent polling, and the like. What you have to do is project how the current dynamic is going to play in 2012. At the moment, Republican leaders are trying to demonize the Affordable Care Act, so they have little incentive to point out that it's basically Romneycare plus cost controls. But in the context of the 2012 race, with the Affordable Care Act settled into law and a contested GOP primary going on, there will be lots of Republicans playing up the comparisons between Romneycare and Obamacare. Romney appears politically viable right now because most Republican voters have not been exposed to the Romneycare-Obamacare comparison -- or if they have, it's been made by advocates of the latter, rather than by Republicans who they trust. When the attacks come, Romney just has no convincing reply.

Indeed, you're going to see more quotes like this, from the economist who helped devise the basis of both programs:

“Basically, it’s the same thing,’’ said Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who advised the Romney and Obama administrations on their health insurance programs. A national health overhaul would not have happened if Mitt Romney had not made “the decision in 2005 to go for it. He is in many ways the intellectual father of national health reform.’’

This is going to be the basis for a devastating attack, and I don't see how Romney answers it. I'd like to see Romney win the nomination, because he's intelligent, competent, and has some decent moral instincts buried somewhere beneath a thick coat of pandering demagoguery. I just don't see it happening.

Update: Ed Kilgore has more.

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