When I offered praise yesterday of Mitt Romney’s poise under fire, one of our readers suggested I had a man-crush on the GOP frontrunner. Now, to be sure, I have a more favorable opinion of the former Massachusetts governor than I did at the outset of this campaign, I primarily lean in his direction because of his opposition.
Even as Romney has put forward a bolder, economic plan and more clearly articulate conservative principles, his Achilles’ heel, if you will, remains the health care legislation he signed when governor of Massachusetts. Brit Hume said as much when reflecting on last night’s returns. Byron York observed as much when talking to Ohio voters:
Why was Romney’s performance so underwhelming? Talks over the last couple of days with voters who chose Santorum suggested two reasons. One, they still don’t trust Romney. And two, they believe Obamacare will be a critical issue in the campaign, and they don’t think Romney, as author of the Romneycare health program in Massachusetts, will be able to effectively challenge Barack Obama over national health care.
Indeed, even after his big plans last week in Michigan and Arizona, Romney still lagged behind Santorum in Ohio polls, but but building momentum as the weekend approached. That momentum was likely slowed by reports that the Republican encouraged the president to adopt the individual mandate. (Over at the National Review, Mario Loyola disputes this assessment, noting that Romney was “was trying to fix the problems created by a scheme that was comparable to Obamacare, namely the ill-advised 1996 reforms.“)
Grace-Marie Turner shares York’s assessment, writing before Super Tuesday that “Even though Mitt Romney has had a string of primary wins, support for his presidential bid still is tepid among Republican voters nervous about Romneycare.” (H/t: Laura Ingraham*) She believes it would help the candidate to distinguish his plan from the president’s:
The Massachusetts law is different in important ways from the plan that Romney pushed as governor. Few voters know, for example, that Romney strongly opposed the employer mandate and wanted an escape from the individual mandate — allowing people to instead be able to post a bond if they were uninsured and had big medical bills. When Romney signed the law, he believed it contained the escape hatch, but legislators removed it before final passage.
Romney vetoed eight provisions of the Massachusetts bill, and every one of his vetoes was overridden by the legislature. Should Romney have known this was likely? Yes. Should he have known exactly what he was signing? Absolutely. But voters may be more forgiving if he tells them he wanted to give citizens and employers a way out.
She offers a three-step plan for Romney “to get off the defensive and take charge of this issue”, with the third point being perhaps his best bet for neutralizing the issue and turning it to his advantage, “Emphasize his vision for market-based health reform, with a much clearer description of what a President Romney’s plan would look like.”
The great irony of this campaign is that the candidate the president more fears seems to be the one most vulnerable on one of the issues most likely to hurt the president in November, his ill-conceived and poorly executed health care plan. It shows how, in the words of the Atlantic’s David A. Graham put it last week, “Obama’s Signature Policies Remain Very Unpopular.”
To rally the conservative base, Romney needs distinguish himself from an incumbent whose policies are out of step with the mood of the American electorate. He has done that on economic issues and entitlement reform. Now, he needs do that on health care as well.
*The talk show host mentioned the article last night on FoxNews.