In 2008, Mitt Romney desperately tried to run from his record as a pro-choice governor. The story of his change of heart didn’t exactly hold together, social conservatives never trusted him and he acquired the “flip-flop” label. He lost Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and was done for.
Contrast that to his position on RomneyCare. He refuses to step away from his embrace of the individual mandate and instead is trying to escape the wrath of voters by saying “each state should decide.”
Let’s imagine that he had reversed defenses on these two key issues. On abortion, he might have escaped criticism for being an opportunist if he had said, “The Supreme Court never should have grabbed this issue. It’s an issue for the states. I want to appoint justices who won’t take over policy decisions.” That might not have given social conservatives everything they wanted. But frankly, it was what conservative favorite Fred Thompson said when quizzed by Tim Russert on whether he supported a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion:
No. I have always — and that’s been my position the entire time I’ve been in politics. I thought Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. I think this platform originally came out as a response, particularly Roe v. Wade, because of that. Before Roe v. Wade, states made those decisions. I think people ought to be free, state and local levels, to make decisions that even Fred Thompson disagrees with. That’s what freedom is all about. And I think the diversity we have among the states, the system of federalism we have where power is divided between the state and federal government has served us very, very well. I think that’s true of abortion. I think Roe v. Wade hopefully one day will be overturned and we can go back to the pre-Roe v. Wade days.
Romney might well have done the same, avoiding a lot of grief from voters, pundits and reporters.
When it comes to RomneyCare, the “let the states decide” doesn’t fly with the base. They consider the individual mandate to be an abomination. And, as health-care adviser Jonathan Gruber pointed out in an interview with Right Turn, the question still remains whether a President Romney would allow funds to be used in state plans with an individual mandate. The only solution would have been, when the debate over ObamaCare began, was to him give the same answer that Tim Pawlenty gave on cap-and-trade, namely admit error and move on.
By trying to repudiate his abortion record and escape his health-care plan by a federalism argument, Romney wound up sabotaging himself in successive elections. Indeed, by doing a 180 on abortion he made it that much more difficult to walk away from a critical issue in the 2012 race. You can only tell one epiphany story in your political career.