A lot of the political implications of the health care reform fight depend heavily on what happens between now and the end of this congressional session. But one “victim,” as Andy Barr puts it in Politico today, is pretty clear regardless of the ultimate outcome: Mitt Romney.
Three years ago, Romney was heralded for his innovative effort to institute near-universal health care in his state. But now that the issue has emerged as a partisan fault line and the Massachusetts plan has provided some guidance for Democratic reform efforts, Romney finds himself bruised and on the defensive as the GOP rallies around opposition to President Barack Obama’s plans.
Some of the flack aimed at Romney has to do with the perceived consequences of the Massachusetts health reform initiative, particularly in terms of costs. Here’s Mike Huckabee’s vicious little swipe on that point:
“It’s going to bankrupt their entire budget,” former Arkansas GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee said of Romney’s health care program in his address to the [Values Voters] summit. “The only thing inexpensive about the Massachusetts health care bill is that there you can get a $50 abortion.”
Nice, eh? But the broader problem for Romney is that it’s hard to attack current health reform plans as a “government takeover of health care,” and individual or employer mandates as the extinction of freedom, without applying similar rhetoric to Romney’s initiative. And while Romney didn’t talk much about his health care record during his 2008 presidential run, he hasn’t repudiated it, either–if for no other reason, because he’s trying to shake a reputation as an opportunistic flip-flopper. With Republicans treating health care reform as an outrage similar in audacity to the Sack of Rome, there’s just no way a good bit of this hate won’t rub off on the Mittster, particularly in the crucible of another presidential campaign.
You have to figure many Republicans are privately unhappy with this situation. Ever since the last election day, the CW in Washington has been that Romney is the best option the GOP has for 2012, particularly after Jon Huntsman all but took himself out of the running by joining the Obama administration as ambassador to China. Romney ran a reasonably viable if flawed campaign in 2008, and wound up as the candidate of most conservatives leery of John McCain. He was a good do-be party man during the general election campaign, and according to one leading account, might have become the Veep nominee and kept Sarah Palin in obscurity had not John McCain forgotten how many houses he owned and made a Richie Rich ticket impracticable. He’s got endless money, a credible record as a blue-state governor, and the intangible advantage of being considered competent and sane even by most Democrats.
But it’s difficult to see how he overcomes responsibility for a state health care initiative that in important ways looks and sounds a lot like what Democrats are trying to enact nationally, now that hard-core shrieking opposition to health care reform has become an absolute litmus test for conservative orthodoxy.