I’m watching Mitt Romney’s speech in Ann Arbor from earlier today, issuing a defense of his Massachusetts health-care plan as I write this.
Maybe I should wait until it’s finished. But I don’t see the point.
Romney’s finished as a 2012 presidential candidate as of today. I don’t know who’ll beat him; my best guess is that multiple candidates in the race will.
Romney has been dancing around Romneycare by saying it represented a state experiment that jibes with conservative notions of federalism. Which is not a wholly illegitimate position to take in the academic sense, but the basic sale behind such an argument is “Romneycare isn’t all that big of a threat to individual freedom, since we can assume that 49 other states wouldn’t have a governor as awful as Romney was in putting it in place, and if it’s a disaster in Massachusetts you can always move somewhere else.” If you’re not Romney, perhaps you can find an audience for such a statement.
But he is Romney. So the federalism angle is worthless to him.
In fact, the only option available to him is to repudiate Romneycare because regardless of what he thinks of his Massachusetts plan, Republican primary voters can’t stand it. He’s going to have to point out the mistakes and flaws inherent in it, declare those flaws fatal and characterize it as a lesson learned.
In today’s speech, Romney outlines a bunch of health-care ideas which are perfect GOP orthodoxy. He’s talking about buying insurance across state lines, equalize the tax treatment of individual health plans with employer-based plans, tort reform and so forth. And he sounds good in making those arguments. His idea that upon inauguration he’d immediately issue a waiver to all 50 states so they’d have the option of escaping from Obamacare makes for a good prospect of stopping it from coming to life without getting 60 Republicans in the Senate to repeal it.
But before he does that, he offers up that defense of his plan in Massachusetts. And by doing so, he cuts his own throat.
Jonah Goldberg, blogging at the American Enterprise Institute’s site, hits this perfectly…
I just watched Mitt Romney’s much-anticipated speech on healthcare, which was vigorously pre-butted by the Wall Street Journal this morning.
It was a sincere, intelligent, cogent, informed political disaster.
The essence of Romney’s position is: I stand by my successful healthcare plan in Massachusetts, but ObamaCare is a disaster because it does all of the things that RomneyCare does, just on a national level. So, if I am elected president I will give waivers to states so they can repeat my mistakes if they want to, or, if they are smart, they will reject both my approach and Obama’s.
I don’t think it will work.
Goldberg’s reaction is pretty similar to the one Ace has, in which the speech is evaluated as a flop…
I don’t know if I buy the line I myself peddled previously: That Romney’s best strategy (let’s put aside the truth and talk strategy) is to confess error and repudiate Romney 2007-2008. I think it’s too late for that, or at least that wouldn’t really help. As today’s speech demonstrated (I gather), he really doesn’t believe he did wrong, so I guess… kudos for being honest about it? I guess? Maybe?
The individual mandate continues to destroy him. He made a case that this is actually a conservative idea — and indeed, it was discussed by conservatives as a conservative idea in years past. For example: Newt Gingrich. A conservative case can be made for it — people should be responsible for their own health care, rather than relying upon the state to take care of them when they get ill.
Unfortunately, a conservative case can also be made against it: The state shouldn’t compel people to do this or that thing, supposedly in their own interest.
And the latter position has won, and not by a little bit. On a federal level, the mandate seems unconstitutional (not sure if the Supreme Court will agree, but it looks unconstitutional), and as that’s our easiest and maybe best route to undoing ObamaCare, you’re not going to find many conservatives defending this bad element.
So… he’s pretty stuck. I guess he could make his argument that in 2006-2007, when he endorsed the individual mandate, all of the various constitutional and political issues weren’t fully engaged and he didn’t appreciate the encroachment on liberty the mandate represents… but of course he’s not doing that.
He doesn’t seem to understand that by defending RomenyCare he’s inadvertently defending ObamaCare and under no circumstances can we have a standard-bearer defending ObamaCare.
At National Review, they’re running a poll on the speech on the front page. The last time I checked it 73 percent of the readers, who are not a terrible cross-section of the Republican electorate, rated the speech as having hurt Romney. That, of course, is reflective of the treatment NRO is giving it in their own right. Atop the front page is a link to a devastating critique…
“Mitt Romney just gave a more articulate defense of Obamacare than President Obama ever has. He continues to believe that the individual mandate is a good idea, despite the fact that the “free-rider” problem is a myth. His effort to make a distinction between Romneycare and Obamacare was not persuasive: If anything, he convincingly made the opposite case, that Romneycare and Obamacare are based on the same fundamental concept.” – Avik Roy
And of course the Wall Street Journal piece linked above in the Goldberg excerpt, was devastating…
Like Mr. Obama’s reform, RomneyCare was predicated on the illusion that insurance would be less expensive if everyone were covered. Even if this theory were plausible, it is not true in Massachusetts today. So as costs continue to climb, Mr. Romney’s Democratic successor now wants to create a central board of political appointees to decide how much doctors and hospitals should be paid for thousands of services.
The Romney camp blames all this on a failure of execution, not of design. But by this cause-and-effect standard, Mr. Romney could push someone out of an airplane and blame the ground for killing him. Once government takes on the direct or implicit liability of paying for health care for everyone, the only way to afford it is through raw political control of all medical decisions.
Mr. Romney’s refusal to appreciate this, then and now, reveals a troubling failure of political understanding and principle. The raucous national debate over health care isn’t about this or that technocratic detail, but about basic differences over the role of government. In the current debate over Medicare, Paul Ryan wants to reduce costs by encouraging private competition while Mr. Obama wants the cost-cutting done by a body of unelected experts like the one emerging in Massachusetts.
Romney wants the issue to go away. It won’t go away. It’s his record, and people don’t like his record. The only way to clean up your record is to throw out the trash in it. And so long as he continues to show off a program which emits a rancid, statist odor to Republican voters that record isn’t clean and Romney can’t appeal to conservatives. At this point he can’t even really appeal to moderates, because the more they see of the conservatives they think are nuts who become more and more vitriolic in their opposition to Romney they’ll wet their pants and despair that Romney can’t rally the conservative base well enough to beat Obama – which is, at the end of the day, the only consideration they bring into the voting booth.
There is no good outcome here. Romney’s only strategy is to ride his war chest to a series of 10-15 percent showings in the early primaries and then pick up votes from lesser-light candidates who run out of money and drop out in an effort to add up delegates in the late-game contests. But even if that works, all it does is make him John McCain, Junior. What’s far more likely is some other candidate will catch on and steal Romney’s support and he’ll never post a number better than 10 or 15 percent outside of New Hampshire and one or two other states.
Either way, if this is the best he can do on health care, he’s done as a viable candidate. Clearly this is what he thinks is his only move. That indicates Romney has probably found his ceiling with the GOP base, and his campaign isn’t viable.
We’re all for anyone running who’d like to give it a shot, but as of right now there is no reason to think Romney is going to contribute much to the debate other than hold support which more viable candidates should be able to compete for. If he really wants to run, he’s welcome to. Our advice, though, is that it’s a fool’s errand and he’d be better off leaving the 2012 race alone.