The health-care law which shall not be named is starting to get mentioned.
Twice today, Mitt Romney’s campaign has cited the health-care law he signed as Massachusetts governor — seeking credit for something it took pains to explain away during the Republican primary race.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul, responding to a harsh new super PAC ad featuring a man who blames Bain Capital for his uninsured wife’s death, broke new ground for the campaign by praising Romney’s health insurance mandate.
“To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Gov. Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” Saul said on Fox News. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President Obama’s economy.” (These comments are around the 2-minute mark in the video above.)
Similarly, at an event in Iowa today, Romney seemed to suggest his bill qualifies him to tackle reforming Obama’s bill: “We’ve got to do some reforms in health care, and I have some experience doing that as you know, and I know how to make a better setting than the one we have in health care.”
It’s a very novel strategy. And it’s fraught with danger.
Obama’s health-care law remains perhaps the biggest arrow in the GOP’s 2012 election quiver, because it so motivates the GOP base against the president.
Romney has been criticized for enacting a very similar law in Massachusetts. He was largely able to finesse the issue in the primary season and gather conservatives to his side for the general election. But there remain some concerns that his own health-care law may make it harder for him to prosecute the case against Obama’s law.
Top conservatives, including radio host Rush Limbaugh, were quick to criticize the move.
“Andrea Saul’s appearance on Fox was a potential gold mine for Obama supporters,” Limbaugh said. “They can say, ‘Romneycare was the basis for our health care.’”
RedState.com editor Erick Erickson agreed: “OMG. This might just be the moment Mitt Romney lost the election. Wow,” he tweeted . He added on his blog that this might be the moment of Romney’s “Read My Lips” betrayal of his right-wing supporters.
Conservative commentator Philip Klein added: “Not sure if the Romney camp realizes what a huge opening they’ve just created for Ds on Obamacare.”
Added a Republican strategist, granted anonymity to speak candidly: “I don’t get it, but I have never understood their position on the Massachusetts Plan. Doesn’t seem helpful to me.”
Saul’s comment, in particular, seems to try to take credit for the individual mandate portion of Romney’s health care bill, which to conservatives is the most objectionable portion of Obama’s bill.
Still, some say Romney may be wise to address the issue and suggest conservatives will turn out no matter what.
“It is a bit of a risk, but it would help blunt the ‘Romney wants to take away your health care’ argument,” said independent pollster Brad Coker. “I have a notion that the ‘conservatives are not going to show up’ is a canard. They might not love Romney, but they hate Obama more.”
Republican strategist Jon Lerner said he saw no problem with Romney making such a case.
“It’s perfectly appropriate for him to now talk about his experience in health care policy,” Lerner said. “Conservatives will not object, short of Romney embracing Obamacare, which is about as likely as him embracing the ‘you didn’t build that’ idea.”
Romney has generally distanced himself from his health-care law, noting that a Democratic-controlled state legislature made changes that he didn’t necessarily agree with. He has also made a federalist argument, saying that states should be entitled to make such changes, but that Washington shouldn’t institute a national bill.
It remains to be seen whether this was a calculated pivot by the Romney campaign or just some wayward messaging. The campaign has not yet responded to a follow-up question.
Updated at 4:07 p.m.
Philip Rucker contributed to this report.