Oh my: Did Mitch Daniels support a health-care mandate in 2003?

Alternate headline: “Suddenly, Newt Gingrich having only the second-worst week among major candidates.”

You know who this helps? I think you do.

An item in the South Bend Tribune from October, 23, 2003, on a campaign stop Daniels made to a health clinic, reported:

The candidate said he favors a universal health care system that would move away from employee-based health policies and make it mandatory for all Americans to have health insurance.

Daniels envisioned one scenario in which residents could certify their coverage when paying income taxes and receive a tax exemption that would cover the cost.

“We really have to have universal coverage,” Daniels said.

Under his plan, Daniels said, the nation could get away from the inefficient and unfair way in which health care is provided to those who are uninsured, many of whom end up in emergency rooms or “at clinics like this one.”

Aspiring to universal coverage is one thing, aspiring to do it via a mandate is another. (Remember how The One was anti-mandate during the 2008 campaign despite wanting to make coverage universal or near-universal? Odd how no one brings that up anymore.) Looking to torpedo Daniels right out of the gate, HuffPo conducted a “lengthy search of the governor’s various statements on health care policy” over the years; apparently, this was the only example they found of Daniels allegedly endorsing the mandate, and even here there’s no direct quote to confirm that he was actually saying what the reporter thinks he was saying. Which is surprising: After all, the mandate wasn’t nearly as radioactive on the right until ObamaCare exploded and the constitutional arguments against a free-floating Commerce Clause power of compulsory purchases began to sharpen. For instance, I don’t remember Romney’s endorsement of the mandate being a major strike against him in 2008, especially in comparison to his abortion flip-flop. You would think more Republicans would have long-ago flirtations with the idea on their records somewhere. (And of course, some do.) With Daniels, this one piece is it — so far.

Reached for comment this afternoon by NRO, his office assured them that he supports using tax credits to help people buy insurance, not mandates. Mitch the Knife himself addressed the subject in a radio interview later:

“I don’t believe in mandates,” Daniels said in a radio interview with Michael Smerconish earlier today. “We took a very, very different approach here in Indiana, more or less health saving accounts for low income people.”

Daniels added that he didn’t agree that “as a matter of either good health care policy or, frankly, our constitutional liberties, that government at any level should be ordering Americans to buy a given product.”

If he’s serious about running — and judging by this story, it sounds like he is — he’d better have staffers trawling Lexis/Nexis exhaustively for any “troubling” prior quotes on this subject. The base is already suspicious of him, I think, especially given his ostentatious support among the dreaded Republican elite, so any bombshell revelations in his past involving conservative heresies will do major damage, needless to say. You don’t suppose Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have 10 or 20 or 1,000 people digging on him right now, do you?

Via Breitbart, here he is in 2009 (at 2:45) insisting he wouldn’t subject himself or his family to the savagery of presidential politics. In other news, he told the Indy Star today that he’ll reach a decision on whether he’s running for president by month’s end.