This morning the Wall Street Journal editorial board accused Mitt Romney of being a technocrat and not a conservative. In his speech in Ann Arbor, Mich., today, Romney proved the editorial board correct. You could tell it wasn’t going to be a good outing when it became clear that a tiny room of about 100 invited guests was the setting. Message: Only handpicked friends could be counted on not to boo or laugh.
It was really two speeches. The first was a defense of RomneyCare. But it was one that will only deepen conservative criticism. Romney proudly defended his plan and the individual mandate that is now the object of the entire Republican Party’s ire. His explanation — mandates were designed to stop the free-rider problem — is exactly the justification for the same feature in ObamaCare. The mandate, conservatives believe, is an infringement on individual freedom. (It also didn’t work to reduce insurance cost in Romney’s state of Massachusetts.)
Romney trotted out the federalism argument once again, calling ObamaCare a “power grab.” But conservatives for nearly two years have been arguing that NO government should require individuals to purchase something they don’t want. That Romney still doesn’t understand this is a bit shocking.
The line of the day, and the one that will haunt him throughout his campaign, was “I believed I did what was right for my state.” Yikes.
The immediate Twitter reaction among conservative pundits and some keen-eyed liberal ones (I will include my colleague Greg Sargent in that second club) was withering. The consensus: If possible, Romney made things worse. If anything, Romney proved to be a far more articulate spokesman for the individual mandate than Obama. And if conservative pundits hated it this much, can you imagine what Tea Partyers will think?
Who thought up the idea of this sort of speech? I imagine the candidate did. No professional campaign adviser who knows the tiniest bit about GOP politics would have advised him to take this route.
The second part of the speech was a long discourse on what Romney would do for the country. Guess what? He says that it would be “different” than what he did in Massachusetts. He ran through a number of conservative ideas that have shown up in other plans ( purchase insurance across state lines, equal tax treatment for individual and employer-provided insurance, etc.) But, of course, the takeaway is he didn’t choose such a plan for his own state.
In the Q-and-A afterward he got mostly softball questions. But at one point he spoke admiringly of the French health-care system. I’m not kidding.
Romney is entirely lacking in self-awareness and understanding of the current Republican primary electorate if he thinks this speech is going to help. I’m sure his primary opponents, like many pundits, are dumbstruck that such a capable man could be so dense when it comes to his chosen profession.