Mitt Romney's Health Care Non-Problem

Jonathan Bernstein explains why dealing with "Obamneycare" or whatever you might want to call it isn't such a big deal for Mitt Romney after all:

the GOP electorate doesn't actually care about health care reform the same way it cares about, say, abortion or taxes on rich people. Or, as I'm now putting it, Republican voters strongly oppose Obamacare, but they don’t care very much about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They strongly oppose the health care plan that Barack Obama and Nancy Peloci and Harry Reid crammed through Congress against the will of the American people, and they think it’s an unconstitutional power grab that amounts to a government takeover that’s going to bankrupt the nation by cutting Medicare and death panels and all. But they don’t know or care anything about the exchanges, or the cost-cutting efforts, or most of the rest of it.

And that being the case, the similarities between the Massachusetts plan and ACA are pretty much irrelevant — what matters is whether the Massachusetts plan is similar to Obamacare (that is, to a government takeover supported by Barack Obama with death panels and the rest). And it's not all that hard for Romney to deflect that, at least for those who are open to his candidacy otherwise. Because, of course, Romney can claim that he's 100% against Obamacare and 100% for fully repealing it, and mumble mumble jargon jargon it's totally different from what he was up to when he was governor.

As I argued last week, it's actually good for Romney that health care is a much bigger issue in the primaries than something like abortion, where his flip-flopping would be much more difficult to explain away. And time is Romney's friend. Republican voters are learning new things about people like Rick Perry, but they already know who Mitt Romney is. The objections they have to him are much more emotional than policy-based, and even the policy objections, as with health care, are really about whether they can feel comfortable that he's one of them. So every time health care comes up, Romney gets another opportunity to say, in Bernstein's words, "he's 100% against Obamacare and 100% for fully repealing it, and mumble mumble jargon jargon it's totally different from what he was up to when he was governor." With each repetition, the Republican voters get more and more comfortable with him.

And the fact that the substance of the issue isn't something Republicans actually care about works to Romney's advantage in another way, by blurring the distinction between the current positions he and his opponents hold. It isn't as though Rick Perry has some totally innovative health-care plan that distinguishes him from Romney, touches GOP voters' deep feelings about health care, and shows him to be the real conservative. Perry's position on health care, pretty much in its entirety, is "Obamacare bad! Repeal Obamacare!" Which also happens to be Romney's position, and Michele Bachmann's position, and the position of everyone in the party. That makes the issue almost, if not completely, a wash.