Yesterday it was Newt Gingrich; today, the political spotlight turns to another Republican vying for the party’s 2012 presidential nomination, Mitt Romney. And the spotlight is particularly bright because Romney today is making a two-pronged effort to attack the central weakness in his candidacy: health care.
It’s a weakness because, as just about everyone knows by now, Romney as governor of Massachusetts pushed for and signed into law a health reform that’s similar in many ways to the one President Obama pushed for and signed into law. ObamaCare has been such an animating concern on the right that RomneyCare is a huge, maybe insurmountable, obstacle for Romney.
Unless, of course, Romney can explain satisfactorily why his plan for Massachusetts was not only substantively but philosophically different from Obama’s plan for the whole country (or, I suppose, unless the rest of the GOP field is so weak as to not be able to take advantage of this weakness in Romney’s candidacy). Which brings us to that two-pronged effort.
First is an op-ed in USA Today in which Romney pledges, if elected, to “issue on my first day in office an executive order paving the way for waivers from ObamaCare for all 50 states. Subsequently, I will call on Congress to fully repeal ObamaCare.”
In its place, Romney offers five steps which he describes as “based on the same philosophical tenets as the reforms I offered during my last presidential campaign in 2008, [namely to] return power to the states, improve access by slowing health care cost increases, and make health insurance portable and flexible for today’s economy.”
Read the whole thing for a fuller explanation of those five steps. But — spoiler alert! — the closest he comes to drawing a distinction between RomneyCare and ObamaCare comes under Step 1, which relates to empowering states to find their own ways to take care of “citizens who are poor, uninsured or chronically ill”:
This reform speaks to the central advantage of our federalist system — that different states will experiment with and settle on the solutions that suit their residents best. Some states might pass a plan like the one we did in Massachusetts, while others will choose an altogether different route.
The federalism argument is a potentially powerful one, although it does leave open questions about why Gov. Romney favored an Obama-like approach for Massachusetts; the early returns, as represented by today’s hard-hitting, critical editorial in The Wall Street Journal, suggest he hasn’t answered those questions very well to date. And even if Romney had answered those questions, his federalism argument, at least as it’s made in Romney’s op-ed, is not made very powerfully.
For that, look to Romney’s 2 p.m. speech at the University of Michigan. But this preview of the speech, by a Romney aide quoted at National Review Online, doesn’t inspire much confidence in me that the speech will differ appreciably from the op-ed as far as making RomneyCare more palatable to GOP voters.
An old political saw holds that if you’re explaining, you’re losing. A corollary might be that if you’re doing your best to avoid explaining, you’re losing even worse.
– By Kyle Wingfield