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Mitt Romney Lives (Maybe)

Romney's speech yesterday has gotten mostly bad reviews (Chris Christie spoke up for Romney.)  I'm not sure what the point of the speech was if he was just going to repeat the same talking points about Obamacare and Romneycare he has been saying for about a year now.  His points seem to be:

1. Wave his hand in your direction and then, in British accent, say, "These are not the glaringly obvious policy similarities you are looking for."

2.  Tell you that the Romneycare/Obamacare approach of coverage mandates + individual purchase mandates + subsidies + guaranteed issue + community rating (the last two predated, but were incorporated into Romneycare) is, for some unarticulated reason good for Massachusetts but not for 49 other states.

3.  Have a federal reform strategy that is at odds with his record as governor.  He wants tort reform, and the ability to purchase insurance across state lines.  That's great, but those policies can be implemented in one state.  He didn't accomplish that.  His actual record in Massachusetts looks more like Obamacare in one state rather than market-oriented health care reform in one state.

The increased salience of the health care issue, and the similarities between Obamacare and Romneycare are a big problem for Romney.  Romney had four major appeals going for him in 2008.  They were:

1.  He was brilliant businessman who understood how the economy works.

2.  He was (after his social policy makeover) the most orthodox conservative of the major contenders for the nomination on the most salient issues of the moment (unlike the tax raising Huckabee and the pro-amnesty McCain.)  Romney was supported by National Review.  He had the passive support of much of conservative talk radio.  It wasn't so much that the major voices were for him as much as they were against Huckabee and McCain, but it was something.

3. He was a competent governor of Massachusetts.

4.  His ability to win in Massachusetts suggested that he could win a national election.

His appeal as a businessman/economics guy is still mostly intact, but the rising premiums in Massachusetts might put something of a dent in the idea that he is great on economics. His appeal as an orthodox conservative (always shaky) is shattered.  His appeal as a competent governor might still work but it is going to be tough making that argument to a right-leaning Republican primary electorate who will probably dislike with his signature achievement.  His electability appeal might come into play depending on how the Republican primary process plays out.

Romney's health care policy weaknesses have reduced him to his (significant) bedrock assets.  He has name recognition and a national organization.  He will have enough money to run as many ads as he wants. If he wants to hit another candidate, everybody will see the attack ads plenty of times.  Romney will be as ruthless in his attack ads as he feels he needs to be.  He will say whatever he thinks will help him get elected.  People might question his authenticity, but pretty much everyone agrees that Romney is sane and well informed.

Romney is in a tough position, but he is not necessarily doomed.  I can see a scenario where the Republican presidential primary race winnows down to Romney and another candidate whose personal/stylistic/electoral disabilities convince a majority of the voters to put aside their concerns about Romney and vote for him as the lesser evil.  That means that Romney needs to turn the Republican nomination contest into a desperately constrained choice between himself and some "unelectable" conservative identity politics-oriented candidate (maybe Gingrich or Bachmann) with appalling approval ratings among independents.  But getting to that kind of two person race is going to be the real challenge for Romney.  Before he can beat a Bachmann or a Gingrich (and it isn't 100% certain that he would), he would first have to destroy Pawlenty and Daniels early in the nominating process.

I wouldn't be on this scenario.  I think it is more likely that Romney's popular and institutional support melts away before Christmas.  But stranger things have happened. 

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 6 Comments

At one time I would not have thought it possible that McCain could be the conservative candidate of choice. Yet I heard sweet grey-haired ladies who had been screaming at me about his liberalism ("Why isn't he a Democrat?") eight years before telling me it was his turn this time around. Romney might get the nomination? Stranger things have happened.

Why isn't Romney using the Massachusetts example to run against Obamacare? To say that "His actual record in Massachusetts looks more like Obamacare in one state rather than market-oriented health care reform in one state." really could/should mean a campaign for him saying, "We did the best we could, but government health-care systems are doomed to failure and no matter how you tinker with it, such a system just won't work. I know the political pressures in favor of such a plan, but I also see how our best intentions can still lead to failure and bankrupt government." Even the best manager cannot fix a bad plan without changing the plan. I remember how the Mass. system was lauded at the time in the press. "Everyone" knew it was the answer. It is not. Oh well, live and learn; let's back government out of this and it is too bad we cannot look to Massachusetts for how to do that.

Reading your penultimate paragragh and use of "independent" leads to a realization that once upon a time "independent" voters were in the middle, mostly moderate, and now, they are on the other side of politics, as well and maybe predominantly. There is a worry for candidates going in, since it means moving to the center can be alienating. Is this true especially for Republicans? Maybe not, I hear Democrats who are disappointed in Obama and they are often complaining from the farther Left.

Romney as sane and well-informed might play well with Republicans I know who are older than I am, but it will not be good enough for my younger friends and by that term I don't mean kids. If Romney cannot figure out how to interest them, he might get the nomination, but he can't win the presidency.

"But stranger things have happened."

It usually involves things like errant asteroids wiping out the rest of the field at one of the primary debates, leaving Mitt the only guy standing...

As a more "constructive" offering--the man has, in my opinion, little chance because his main strength would now appear to be his business credentials, and that just carries no great emotional weight in these times. Sure, Lee Iaccoca was talked about as a candidate once upon a time--but he had a very public company turnaround to his name to bolster the claim of competence. Romney just has his money to show the score vis a vis his abilities--and people in this nation no longer assume that gaining money was a result of business smarts. The liberals won on that issue. People may just as well assume it was from being one of the "club".

There are two real reasons why claiming "competence" gained from a business background never works on the national stage: the first is that people are somewhat inured to the idea that the man in the CEO spot may actually be an empty suit who is nothing special and have internalized the meme, and two, we are now, it would seem, a nation of economic illiterates who value highest things that have very little to do with the business world (thanks to the long march through the institutions). This does not mean that the people, and especially the younger ones, can not be made receptive to such things (in fact they are very primed to hear such)--just that they are not bringing such an appreciation with them to the table anymore.

If one cannot teach as well as do, then one will not have long term staying power espousing center-right things in this country as it currently is. The ground must be tilled before casting one's seeds. The ground is fertile, yes--but you still need to plow. No getting around that.

Finally, in making a sale on the competence thing, there must be too things, one of which Romney is lacking. The first is the ability to inspire belief in the managerial ability--the idea that you actually will know the right thing to do at the right time. The second--and the reason why the Governor will not win--is the belief that when you meet opposition to your managerial plan, you will be able to overcome it. That you have both brains and backbone. And that is a sale that I do not think Mitt Romey is going to be able to make.

There is a distinction between your schema of Romneycare and Obamacare: states have general police power and the federal government has (properly understood) only delegated powers. The coverage mandates are not (in the legal and formal realm) illegitimate on the face of them, as they are when enacted by the central government and justified with an I-say-it's-spinach definition of 'interstate commerce'. Also, regulation of insurance companies is (conventionally) a state function and the enactment of a plan within state borders does not require the erection of a regulatory apparatus de novo.

Popular discourse on the financing of medicine and surgery is depressing. There are masses of people who think they are entitled to the attention of a physician in return for a piddling co-pay and masses of people who think insurance companies are horns-o'-plenty and obligated to pony up at the discretion of the client and behaving nefariously when they abide by (and enforce) the terms of their extant contracts with their clientele. Persuading this crew that first-dollar coverage of medical expenses has proven economically unsustainable is (one might wager) an impossible task. That is what Romney is up against, in addition to the demagogy of the Democratic Party.

I would think (given the President's current base of support) that if the trajectory of public opinion over the next 18 months is negatively sloped (as it was in 1947-48, 1967-68, 1979-80, 1991-92, and 2003-04), just about any presentable opponent will do. It is atypical for the political parties to nominate ringers. George McGovern is just about the only contrary example in the last 80 years (though a case could be made for a couple of others).

AD, if Romney wants to argue that a program of coverage mandates + individual purchase mandates + subsidies + guaranteed issue + community rating is good policy but unfortunately unconstitutional at the national level then he can go for that. His national program is, in important ways, at odds with his state program. He could have pushed for lowering barriers to purchasing insurance across state lines. Maine is looking to go in just that direction. He could argue that the political culture of Massachusetts made Romneycare the best that he could possibly get as governor

It is anachronistic to have expected much better from Romney in 2006. The health policy debate has changed substantially among center right politicians in the last eight or so years (and withing the right-leaning electorate.) Romneycare probably seemed like a good idea at the time. There is no shame in learning from experience and Romney might do himself some good if he isolated some things that might be a good idea (like subsidies and credits that start the transition away from employer-based insurance) to things that aren't (like a combination of guaranteed issue, community rating, heavy coverage mandates and individual purchase mandates - not all of whom were Romney's ideas.)

I don't think it is politically impossible for health care policy to move more in the direction of catastrophic insurance for most of the working-age population and a combination of premium support + a defined contribution version of Medicare FFS for most of the elderly (there would of course be lots of details to work out for nursing home care and the role of insurance - rules for taking out insurance should encourage people to take out that insurance at much younger ages - and for the working-aged indigent.) Though it might be.

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