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Post Partisan
Posted at 05:15 PM ET, 07/03/2012

It's the party, not the candidate

Greg Sargent, at the end of a good post about Mitt Romney’s reported “cease fire” on health care, says:

The broader story may be that for all of Obamacare’s unpopularity with the public, Romney is proving exactly the wrong candidate to exploit it.

I don’t agree.

The reason that Romney can’t speak sensibly on health care reform has little to do with the admittedly uncomfortable fact that his plan in Massachusetts was the prototype for the Affordable Care Act. No, he’s proven perfectly capable of bashing Obamacare. Is it true that he “can’t” attack the individual mandate as a tax without admitting that Romneycare raised taxes? Nope. On the one hand, nothing would stop him from doing exactly that; on the other, Barack Obama’s campaign could attack him by calling it a tax whether Romney “admits” to it or not.

No, Romney’s problem is that there’s simply no possible health care reform plan that he can support that would both appeal to those who have doubts about the Democratic plan and, at the same time, prevent Republicans from revolting against him. All there is are the same slogans — not plans, but slogans — that Republicans have been reciting over the last three years: purchasing insurance over state lines, malpractice reform. And not only does everyone who pays close attention know that it doesn’t add up to a real reform plan, but it doesn’t seem to even fulfill the job of sounding good.

That’s why, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, Republicans wound up with a redundant talking point about big tax increases (while not the largest in history, the Affordable Care Act certainly does raise taxes – but counting the individual mandate as a tax doesn’t really change that), plus some all-purpose meaningless Frank Luntz-tested catch phrases. Indeed, it’s the reason why Republicans used to and still do talk about “repeal and replace” even though they don’t have any “replace” plan worth speaking of.

None of this has anything to do with Romney’s embarrassing history. It’s just the box that the GOP has put itself in. They don’t want to admit to wanting to do nothing and just let all the things that people don’t likepersist, but as Jonathan Chait wrote recently, that’s their real position — or at least, it’s the position of enough Republicans that it’s impossible to put together any positive program over their opposition. After all, health care is complicated; even with practically everyone in the party fully committed to universal coverage, the Democrats found it difficult to find policies that allowed them to stay united. Start with over half of a party committed to nothing, and it’s going to be almost impossible to come up with a policy that will win broad support. And then add an absolute knee-jerk rejection of anything that Barack Obama and the Democrats support, and it becomes completely impossible.

For Republicans running for nominations or in lopsided Republican districts, none of this is as much of a problem; the constituents they care about are mostly happy with just plain repeal, and are certainly happy with crude Obama-bashing. But the incentives are all different for a presidential candidate who has to worry about swing voters. That, and not Romneycare, is what's causing the trouble.

By  |  05:15 PM ET, 07/03/2012

 
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