Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is giving a major speech in Ann Arbor, Michigan today on what experts agree is the signature crisis of his candidacy: the landmark health care reform bill he signed into law in 2006, requiring all residents of his state to buy health insurance. The Wall Street Journal editorial board, as good a source as any for what the conservative establishment is thinking, calls Romney “Obama’s Running Mate“; over at Politico, Kasie Hunt lays out the stakes:
For Romney, there’s no getting around it. The perceived similarities between the two measures are a deal-breaker for the Republican base, which loathes the president’s plan. At the same time, the former governor can’t afford to completely repudiate the centerpiece of his four-year-term without reinforcing the flip-flopping knock on him.
In an attempt to put the issue behind him—something he hasn’t come close to doing yet—Romney will outline his health care plan in a PowerPoint presentation that is designed to explain his views on federal policy but also to distinguish the Massachusetts plan from the president’s in a way that is convincing to Republican primary voters.
Yeah, that is kind of awkward. But here’s another way of looking at it: Mitt Romney’s support for providing poor people with affordable health insurance is only a problem until the Republican establishment decides it isn’t a problem. There are sincerely held conservative arguments against the Affordable Care Act, but the party’s most fundamental objection to Obamacare is reflected in that nickname: President Obama signed it.
From there, the individual mandate follows naturally as an unconstitutional, un-American villain. But it wasn’t considered toxic by Republican activists in 2006, when Romney signed the bill, or in 2008, when he ran on it—and won the endorsement of tea party ringleader Sen. Jim DeMint (R–S.C.). In other words, there’s an on–off switch to all the outrage. Romney can talk himself hoarse trying to explain why his health care plan is different than President Obama’s; or he can just sit tight and hope the GOP establishment decides, once more, that an individual mandate really isn’t that big of a deal.