Mitt Romney has been so busy securing his Republican base that he hasn't had time to court independent voters, the ones who will actually decide this election. But now, probably by accident, he has an opportunity to show them that he's something other than a slave to his party's right wing. Will he take it?
When Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul committed the apparently unpardonable sin of praising the health care law Mitt Romney passed as governor of Massachusetts, was she making a horrible mistake that made everyone in Romney headquarters gasp in horror, or was she just reflecting what her candidate actually believes? The answer to that question would tell us where Romney is going to go from here on health care, and whether he may at long last try to find some issue on which he can convince voters he's something more than a vessel for whatever his party's right wing wants to do to the country.
Most everyone, myself included, initially assumed that Saul just spoke out of turn. After all, Romney had been trying to avoid any discussion of health care all through the primaries. And from a logical standpoint, there really is no good argument for him to make. Since what Romney did in Massachusetts and what President Obama did with the Affordable Care Act are identical in their major features, either they were both wise policy moves or they were both horrible mistakes, but it just can't be the case that one was great and the other was a nightmare. That is, in fact, the argument Romney makes when he's forced to talk about the Massachusetts reform, but you can tell he realizes how absurd what he's saying is, and he wants to change the subject as soon as possible.
But Noam Scheiber argues that it's oversimplified to just say that Romney has turned his back on Romneycare in order to assure Republicans that he hates Obamacare as much as they do:
As we await the Romney campaign's decision about Saul's fate, it's worth reflecting on one under-reported aspect of this latest conservative blow-up: Saul was saying precisely what her superiors in the Romney campaign believe, not least of them Mitt Romney.
I spent a lot of time talking to Romney campaign officials while reporting my recent profile of Stuart Stevens, his chief strategist. The unmistakable impression I got from them is that, to this day, Romney remains extremely proud of having passed health care reform in Massachusetts.
And why wouldn't he be? He approached a difficult problem, then came up with a solution acceptable to both parties, and by all accounts the resulting policy has been a success. There are only a small number of uninsured people left in Massachusetts, and the reform is widely popular within the state. It was without a doubt the most significant accomplishment of Romney's one term as governor. The fact that he is running a campaign for president in which he dares not mention the best thing he did in the one job he had that was something of a preparation for the job he wants is quite insane.
Of course, it's one thing for him to be justifiably proud of Romneycare, and it's another for him to actually talk about it on the campaign trail. If he were to do that, it would require two things he has little desire to do: angering his base, and admitting, at least tacitly, that Barack Obama actually did something right. The former is really the biggest problem; there has not been a single occasion during this campaign (or the one he ran in 2008, for that matter), when Mitt Romney has said or done anything he thought might get the right wing of the Republican party upset. The chances that he'll start now are slim to none.