“One of the reasons I endorsed Romney [in 2008] is his attempts to make private health insurance available at affordable prices,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), a GOP kingmaker.
DeMint blames Democrats in the Massachusetts State Legislature for adding many of the features to Romney’s plan that many on the right decry.
“It just depends on how he plays it. For me, I think he started with some good ideas that were essentially hijacked by the Democrat Legislature,” DeMint said.
To start with, blaming everything on the Democratic legislature is simply not an accurate account of what happened. Romney helped craft the basic architecture of the health care plan, and pursued it even though he knew that he was working with an overwhelming Democratic legislature who he knew would override his symbolic line-item vetoes of parts of his bill. He signed the bill with Ted Kennedy at his side, and did so knowing he wasn't seeking reelection and that it would almost certainly fall on a Democratic governor to implement it. After signing it, Romney did a victory lap -- boasting of his accomplishment in a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled, "Health Care for Everyone? We Found a Way." He defended it throughout his last run for president. In a 2007 interview with Fox during his campaign, he said, "We found a way to get everybody in our state, Massachusetts, insured. I like the plan. I think it's one of the best things we did in my administration." He's defended the individual mandate for years on conservative grounds, using the "responsibility" argument that was adopted by Democrats. He even declared in one GOP debate "I like mandates." So it is simply ignorant to portray Romney as an innocent bystander and blame everything on Democrats.
But beyond being ignorant, DeMint's comments are dangerous. I've long argued that the Massachusetts health care plan is not only toxic to Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy, but it could prove toxic to the entire Republican Party. If Romney is excused for crafting and signing the Massachusetts health care plan, it significantly undermines the case against ObamaCare and weakens the effort to repeal it. The reason is that opposition to ObamaCare will start to look increasingly political and less about principle. It's true that a state mandate doesn't raise the same Constitutional questions as the federal mandate, but it still is government forcing an individual to purchase a product. These comments are especially dangerous coming from DeMint, who is known as a leading conservative and ObamaCare opponent. Let's hope it's an isolated incident and not part of a broader trend.
UPDATE: Over at the Hill, a source close to DeMint is pushing back against the way his comments have been interpreted. "It's obvious Jim was just trying to be nice to the guy he backed over McCain, as many conservatives did in 2008," the source said, according to the Hill. "But he would never consider backing Romney again unless he admits that his Massachusetts health care plan was a colossal mistake."
The Hill also prints DeMint's full comments, which contain more qualifications for his defense of Romney's involvement in the health care law:
One of the reasons I endorsed Romney is his attempts to make private health insurance available at affordable prices. He set the goal that all folks in Massachusetts would have affordable health insurance. By the time it got through the Democratic state legislature, it had all these mandates on it, requirements about what kind of policies would be bought -- the same thing that happened up here -- instead of getting people insured, it was a government takeover. So I applaud the goal -- my goal is to have every American with a private health insurance plan that they can keep throughout their lives. And so, I still admire him for taking on the task, but I think it's important to recognize that that's not where we want our healthcare to go. States can compete with different plans, but we shouldn't have anything like what they did in Massachusetts at the federal level.