By extension, does this mean the former Massachusetts governor thinks Obamacare is conservative, too? It seems like it. Mitt Romney today stood by Romneycare as completely and forcibly as he ever has. It seems he’s making the argument the individual mandate is conservative in a roundabout attempt to prove that he has been consistently conservative throughout his political career.

“I’m happy to stand by the things I believe,” Romney told Fox News. “I’m not going to change my positions by virtue of being in a presidential campaign. What we did was right for the people of Massachusetts. The plan is still favored there by 3:1 — and it is fundamentally a conservative principle because the people take personal responsibility rather than turning to the government for free care.”

Even at the state level, a mandate to purchase insurance doesn’t show much respect for personal responsibility. Rather than trust and allow individuals to recognize the worth of insurance as a protection against future emergency expenses and to purchase it voluntarily themselves (or to suffer the consequences if they don’t), advocates of the individual mandate succumb to cynicism about the individual’s ability to take care of himself. A mandate, in other words, proceeds from an elitist, bureaucratic assumption that government leaders know what individuals need even more than those individuals do. Here’s Erick Erickson’s take on the topic:

Forcing Americans, through penalty of law, into purchasing or refraining from purchasing a product is not and will never be conservative.

What’s conservative? Well, if the person doesn’t want insurance, don’t let them get out of paying their medical bills through bankruptcy. But forcing them to buy insurance? Not only is it not conservative, we can see in Massachusetts that health care costs have continued to go up as has the cost of government.

So not only is Mitt Romney’s plan not conservative, it does not even work.

From the beginning, Romney has not handled the Romneycare topic the way many conservatives wished he would. He could have swiftly disavowed it entirely as one of the failed experiments to come out of those noted “laboratories of democracy,” the states. But, instead, he attempted to make the case that Romneycare made sense on some level.

Are comments like Romney’s today compatible with a true commitment to repeal? It’s very hard to tell. Repeal has ever and will always depend on the House and Senate no less than the presidency. All that’s needed from the White House is a signature — a non-veto. I know Obama would veto. I hope no GOP president would — but, at this point, Newt Gingrich’s position on the individual mandate appears to be no better than Romney’s and other candidates with unquestionable repeal credentials seem to stand little chance of winning the nomination.

What is most aggravating about Romney’s comments today, though, is that they make it that much easier for the Democratic National Committee and the Obama campaign to eliminate this issue in the general if Romney is the nominee. Thanks to Romney and Gingrich and their repeated attempts to characterize the individual mandate as a conservative concept, one of Obama’s most vulnerable spots has received a thick coat of armor.