Health care may turn out to be one of the reasons why Mitt Romney is the early Republican frontrunner, but not the dominant one that Bob Dole and George W. Bush once were. Rich Lowry warns, “Masscare may be to Romney in 2012 what abortion was in 2008 –an issue where a critical mass of conservatives don’t quite buy his explanations (and I say this as someone who likes and respects Romney and wishes him well).”
Lowry suggests that Romney simply admit “that he flat-out made a mistake, that he tried an idea that ran off the rails.” Romney has found this difficult to do even on issues where he has ended up in a different place than where he began. On abortion, for example, he has vaciliated between forthrightly acknowledging that he changed his mind and implying that he was never really all that pro-choice to begin with. But I think turning against his Massachusetts health care reform law will be easier said than done for Romney for a couple of reasons.
First, by disavowing his health care reform effort Romney would keep himself from taking credit for a major policy accomplishment. In this economic and fiscal climate, maybe running as the candidate with the record of turning around financially troubled entities would be good enough and he won’t need health care. But Romney’s significant role in the Masscare debacle would remain a promising target for his rivals even if he repudiated it. He would simply lose his ability to run as a Republican with bipartisan health care reform credentials while, say, Tim Pawlenty would still be able to run as a blue-state budget-balancer with less liberal baggage.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, by disavowing his own health care reform law Romney may really turn this issue into a replay of the 2008 abortion controversy: It will reinforce Romney’s image as a flip-flopper and allow his opponents to replay countless clips of Romney defending the law, even touting it as one of his credentials. Romney has probably already dug himself in on this issue and made too many pro-Masscare statements similar to his pro-choice statements on abortion. For better or worse, he owns it now and may sound ridiculous if he tries to campaign against one of his own major policy initiatives.
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