Dancing with The Mitt That Brung Ya

In the early days of the 2012 Republican primaries, many thoughtful commentators took the position that it was simply impossible for Mitt Romney to win his party's nomination. Despite all his evident strengths as a candidate—money, the most professionally run campaign in the group, the endorsement of many establishment figures—Romney simply would not find a way to get past the fact that as governor of Massachusetts he had passed a health care plan that became the model for the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans had come to see as the very embodiment of evil in the modern world. The party's base would never abide it.

Yet he did. Without all that much trouble too. And he didn't deal with the health care issue through some brilliant strategy, either. He made no dramatic mea culpa, and never repudiated Romneycare, at least not directly. Whenever he was asked about it he would give a convoluted and utterly unconvincing argument about how what he did in Massachusetts was great, though of course it shouldn't be applied anywhere else, and even though the ACA is almost exactly the same as Romneycare, the latter was a pragmatic and effective policy solution while the former is an abomination so horrific that putting a copy of the bill in the same room as an American flag could cause said flag to burst into flames and be sucked through a demonic portal to the very pits of hell. Democrats shook their heads at the hypocrisy and smiled at Romney's pain, while Republicans narrowed their eyes and listened skeptically. I feel fairly confident that there was not a single person anywhere who upon hearing Romney try to make these absurd distinctions responded with, "Well that makes sense—I'm convinced."

And amazingly, it almost seems as if Romney thought he could get through the rest of the campaign without this coming up. Yet come up it did, when his chief campaign flak Andrea Saul responded to an ad from pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA that attacks Romney with the story of the spouse of a worker laid off from a Bain Capital-owned company who died without health insurance by saying, "To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care." Saul was right, of course—in Massachusetts, as in the rest of the country after the ACA fully takes effect in 2014, losing your job doesn't mean losing your coverage. But conservatives became apoplectic that the Romney campaign would tout Romney's greatest achievement as governor and imply that people having secure health insurance might actually be a good thing. The less thoughtful among them insisted that Romney and his team need to be "housebroken."

All of which, I'm sure, has caused no small amount of panic at Romney headquarters. As I keep saying, it's just incredible that Romney still has to invest so much energy in keeping his restive base in line. By this time he's supposed to be going after independent voters, but he can't, because every time he turns around the right has found a new reason to be mad at him.

But really, Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. Just look at the desiccated husk of a man they've turned their nominee into, a candidate terrified of his own shadow, devoid of anything resembling principle, so frantic to morph into whatever anyone wants him to be that there's barely anything left of him at all. And it isn't as though he was imposed on them or something–they picked him. Granted, he was running against a truly remarkable collection of nutballs and buffoons; imagine being a Republican and having to explain to someone a few years from now how it came to pass that at various times, your party's front-running candidate for the presidency of the United States was Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich. But still. In the end Republicans went with Mitt Romney. He's what they chose, and they should have known that the guy they're looking at is exactly what they'd get.

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