Romney Will Be Fine

by Brien Jackson

There’s a growing meme lately that the passage of the healthcare bill spells doom for Mitt Romney’s chance to win the Republican Presidential nomination. Basically the idea is that the Republican base has been whipped into a froth of opposition to “Obamacare,” and since Romney signed a program that’s essentally the same as the Affordable Care Act in Masachusetts, he’s not going to be able to win support in the Republican primary. The latest articulation I’ve seen came fron Ben Smith this morning, who compares the healthcae issues potential cost to Romney to the impact support for the Iraq War had on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

For my part, I’m pretty skeptical of this. For one thing, 2012 is pretty far away. And yes, the early parts of the cycle are only a year away, but that aspect of the campaign is dominated by fundraising, which I doubt Romney will have trouble with. The Chamber of Commerce isn’t interested in fighting ove repeal of the bill, PhRMA and providers endorsed it, and non-healthcre businesses don’t really have much of a reason to care about it now that it’s passed. So I very much doubt that the economic interests who fund Republcan campaigns are going to find it much reason to cut off Romney. As far as the Republican electorate goes, I think the idea that they’re going to reject Romney 3 years ago because of his healthcare plan imputes a little too much intellectual sophistication onto the masses. For one thing, it could have been an issue in 2008 as well, when Hillary Clinton was proposing to basically take the Massachusetts system nationwide, but it never really came up, even though it’s not like Democratic plans for universal healthcare were only noticed on the right last year. Indeed, from 1993 to 2008, conservatives used “Hillarycare” as a short-hand for “Socialized medicine.” So the fact that it didn’t hurt Romney in 2008 bodes well for him in 2012. There’s also the fact that Romney can issue some mealy-mouth hedging about “states” and so forth that should buy him enough room to pivot to something else.

If anything, I think the Hillary/Iraq comparison is pretty good, but probably not for the same reason Smith does. Was her initial support for the Iraq War a drag on Clinton’s campaign? Sure. Did it cost her the nomination? Probably not. Compared to investing as much capital in Iowa as they did, even though she was at a distinct disadvantage in the state, and having absolutely no plan for a contest going past Super Tuesday or any kind of campaign presence in the contests between February 5 and March 4, I’d say it’s pretty low on the list of factors that could plausibly be said to have cost Clinton the campaign. What it did do was give her opponents particularly Obama, an early and consistent opening from which to attack her. And that’s probably about all this will do to Romney. Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty and John Thune or whomever is running will be able to respond to Romney’s attacks on the ACA by pointing out that he signed something similar in Massachusetts, but whether or not that proves devastating remains to be seen. For now, I don’t see any evidence that Romney is facing a backlash from the leadership of the conservative movement, which leads me to think it probably won’t hurt him much with the rubes either.

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