On Thursday, the healing begins.
Mitt Romney won’t be apologizing for Romneycare in his health care speech Thursday. But he will be addressing it, according to a Romney aide.
“He’ll address it, but the main focus of the speech will be what his plans will be going forward,” the aide tells National Review Online…
“What will be clear is that number one, he’s got the same position as every other 2012er when it comes to the repeal of Obamacare,” the aide says. “Secondly, he’ll be the first of those candidates to lay out his plan for replacing Obamacare with reforms that will lower costs, and put the states back in the driver’s seat.”
In other words, he’ll formally acknowledge the elephant in the room so that it doesn’t look like he’s hiding from it and then he’ll try to take it down by firing at it with a double-barrel. Barrel one is the federalism argument, seeking to excuse Massachusetts’ increasingly disastrous experiment on grounds that the states, unlike the feds, need a wide berth in tinkering with policy. (Nikki Haley, whom Romney backed during the South Carolina gubernatorial primary, is trying to help him out with that.) And barrel two is his own proposal for a national health-care program to replace Obama’s, the broad outlines of which you can review here. Federalism, again, figures prominently. Chris Cillizza wonders if this will be his equivalent of Obama’s race speech during the 2008 campaign, in which The One defused a political time bomb by addressing a touchy subject directly. Answer: Why … no, of course not. The race speech was simply O signalling to the media that he’d now “dealt with” the issue of Rev. Wright and it was time for the news cycle to officially MoveOn. Everyone on the left who wasn’t a Hillary supporter was happy to oblige him and Hillary herself didn’t want to dwell on it lest she face even more accusations of playing racial politics, and so (notwithstanding Wright’s surreal performance at the National Press Club shortly thereafter) the issue faded. Not so with Romney on the right; he’s going to be clubbed over the head on health care for the duration of the primaries, with Thursday’s speech sure to provide plenty of new material to club him with. Pawlenty’s already been working to set up a contrast with him by apologizing for his own prior support for cap and trade. Anyone think this speech, lacking any mea culpa, will blunt the force of those coming attacks?
The speech would help him solve his problem if his problem was fundamentally about health-care policy. It isn’t. His problem, especially among the base, is that people don’t trust his judgment more broadly, from RomneyCare to his reversal on abortion to his support for TARP and so forth. Realistically, is there anything he could say on Thursday to undo that skepticism among conservatives? Even if he turned around and issued a groveling apology for RomneyCare, it wouldn’t help. All it would do is signal that (a) even he recognizes that his judgment is poor and (b) he doesn’t have enough spine to defend a a dubious decision when it’s under withering attack. By not apologizing, at least he doesn’t have to worry about that second part. But even if the speech does buy him some goodwill, Romney has the same problem with RomneyCare that Obama has with the economy: There’s always a chance that it’ll deteriorate at some point over the next 18 months and throw his campaign into a tailspin. This item yesterday about growing wait times to see a doctor in Massachusetts was widely linked in the blogosphere; imagine something like that dropping a week before the New Hampshire primary or even in October of next year if Romney’s the nominee and working 24/7 to boost grassroots turnout on election day. There’s simply no escaping this issue, even if Thursday’s speech is a home run. And even a home run will start to look like a single if RomneyCare continues to encounter problems, which seems likely. There’s no way out.