Romney's Problem with Health Care is that He Actually Believes in Reform

In a scoop that demolishes a year’s worth of rhetoric from the Romney campaign, Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski discovers three separate videos in which Mitt Romney urges Barack Obama to adopt Massachusetts-style health care reforms as a model for the rest of the country. Here is one of the more damning videos:

Somewhere, a Romney staffer is shaking his fist at those “meddling kids” at Buzzfeed.

More seriously, it’s amazing that these were never uncovered by rival Republican candidates. Both Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry could have rescued their campaigns—or at least, damaged Romney—with one of these clips, much less three. That they were a non-issue for the better part of the GOP campaign season is a testament to the poor quality of Romney’s competition.

With all of that said, there’s also something useful here for those of us who aren’t out to win the Republican presidential nomination. The key fact about Romney’s rhetoric isn’t that he presents the Massachusetts health plan as a conservative alternative to President Obama’s proposal, it’s that he offers it as the conservative plan for universal health care. This, I think, is Romney’s problem.

As we’ve seen in the GOP primary, Romney isn’t the only candidate to endorse an individual mandate—before the Affordable Care Act, it was common for Republicans to adopt the mandate as a counterpoint to liberal plans for an employer mandate or a state-sponsored insurance company. But the important thing to remember is that conservatives have never had an ideological commitment to universal health care; the point of the individual mandate was to offer enough of a compromise to complicate Democratic efforts for reform. For most conservatives, the first-best option was—and remains—a less-regulated version of the status quo.

By contrast, Mitt Romney seems to have an actual commitment to universal health insurance. Regardless of where he stands on the individual mandate or the Affordable Care Act, Romney’s instincts aren’t in the right place, and this puts him at cross-purposes with the large majority of the conservative movement.

We are far enough into the nomination game that this isn’t a problem for Romney. But if he were up against a strong competitor, in the form of Earth-Two Mark Sanford or Bizarro Rick Perry, it could have been fatal.