Republican candidates who love the individual mandate and the liberals who adore them for it had a tough go of it Sunday. Mitt Romney is taking more arrows while Newt Gingrich appears to have voluntarily impaled himself before his campaign barely got off the ground.

On “Fox News Sunday” the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel followed up on her paper’s scathing editorial about Romneycare, zeroing in on his embrace of the individual mandate in a widely panned speech last week:

I don’t think [the Romney campaign] can get over it. Look, you step back, and this debate that we’re having . . .or we’re going to be having for the election is over the role of government — its size and its involvement in people’s life. Health care is central to that.

Now, Romneycare was the prototype to the president’s health-care plan. And Mr. Romney’s obligation [was] . . . to come out and say that was a mistake. We were out there, maybe it wasn’t the beginning of this health-care debate. We were trying to do some things, but it didn’t work out this way. Here is my new plan, here’s how we’re going forward, this is why the other one didn’t work.

He didn’t do that. And so people are saying we don’t want a debate over the minor bureaucratic details over why your plan is different than the president’s. We want a debate about a leader who’s going to say here is what our philosophical principles are and we’re going ahead. And he didn’t do that.

Indeed, in the aftermath of Romney’s speech, Republican operatives, aides and activists seem more convinced than ever that Romney doesn’t have a viable route to the nomination.

So it makes it all the more perplexing that Newt Gingrich should voluntarily jump over the same cliff. Romney has a record and plausibly couldn’t have sustained another major flip-flop. But why would Gingrich voluntarily commit political suicide?

On “Meet the Press,” Gingrich seemed determined to dismiss Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform. He went on a tear:

I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors. But there are specific things you can do. At the Center for Health Transformation, which I helped found, we published a book called “Stop Paying the Crooks.” We thought that was a clear enough, simple enough idea, even for Washington. We — between Medicare and Medicaid, we pay between $70 billion and $120 billion a year to crooks. And IBM has agreed to help solve it, American Express has agreed to help solve it, Visa’s agreed to help solve it. You can’t get anybody in this town to look at it. That’s, that’s almost $1 trillion over a decade. So there are things you can do to improve Medicare.

This is bizarre to say the least. Gingrich who never met a social engineering idea he didn’t like (good, bad or in between) is accusing Ryan of “social engineering” by trying to shift some personal responsibility for health care to affluent seniors?

Even David Gregory was nonplused, telling Gingrich, “But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare.” So Gingrich, the lover of big, extraordinary ideas, suddenly proclaimed timidity a virtue: “I think that that is too big a jump. I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the — I don’t want to — I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.” It sure didn’t take him long to migrate from the “idea man for the GOP” to political hack. Frankly, Republicans would do better to nominate Erskine Bowles than Gingrich.

And then to top it all off, Gregory asked Gingrich about several of his statements backing the idea of an individual mandate. Here was his chance to distance himself and plunge the knife into Romney. Instead he picked up the knife and stabbed himself:

GREGORY: What you advocate there is precisely what President Obama did with his health-care legislation, is it not?

GINGRICH: No, it’s not precisely what he did. In, in the first place, Obama basically is trying to replace the entire insurance system, creating state exchanges, building a Washington-based model, creating a federal system. I believe all of us — and this is going to be a big debate — I believe all of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care. . . .

GREGORY: You agree with Mitt Romney on this point.

GINGRICH: Well, I agree that all of us have a responsibility to pay — help pay for health care. And, and I think that there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy. I’ve said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond —

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

GINGRICH: — or in some way you indicate you’re going to be held accountable.

GREGORY: But that is the individual mandate, is it not?

GINGRICH: It’s a variation on it.


GINGRICH: But it’s a system —

GREGORY: And so you won’t use that issue against Mitt Romney.

GINGRICH: No. But it’s a system which allows people to have a range of choices which are designed by the economy. But I think setting the precedent — you know, there are an amazing number of people who think that they ought to be given health care. And, and so a large number of the uninsured earn $75,000 or more a year, don’t buy any health insurance because they want to buy a second house or a better car or go on vacation. And then you and I and everybody else ends up picking up for them. I don’t think having a free-rider system in health is any more appropriate than having a free-rider system in any other part of our society.

It’s inexplicable, really, unless you understand that Gingrich is undisciplined and intellectually scattered. The Republican Party has shown Romney no mercy and now Gingrich says, “Me, too!” Well, at least Romney has the benefit of impeccable personal morals. If Republicans really wanted an individual-mandate cheerleader, why not choose the one without the personal baggage?

A final note: Gingrich went on to insist we are losing the war against radical jihadism. This is nonsense and the sort of statement you’d expect from Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), not the guy who fancies himself as a internationalist. We’ve won the war in Iraq, we’ve made huge gains in Afghanistan, we’ve not seen a major attack on the homeland after Sept. 11, and Osama bin Laden is dead. How can he seriously argue we are not making progress?

But here’s the thing — Gingrich is not a serious person. There is no trip wire between whatever notion pops into his mind and his mouth. He uses inflammatory language to attack his opponents and evidences none of the intellectual sobriety we expect in a president. Let me say this: Romney has a better chance of getting the nomination at this point than Gingrich. And Romney’s chances are nil.