We’ve long known that Romney might have difficulty credibly challenging Obamacare. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed into law a statewide individual mandate that required everyone to purchase insurance. His defenders point out that the nationwide mandate in Obamacare is different, because it doesn’t respect federalism and states' rights.
That’s always been a bit of a dodge, because the objection to the individual mandate among Republican voters has not really ever been about states' rights. It’s been about individual rights—whether the government should require the purchase of health insurance.
But it’s been a dodge that Romney has largely gotten away with, because his Republican rivals haven’t pressed it as a major issue.
It took Andrew Kaczynski, a journalist from Buzzfeed, to reveal that the federalism defense of Romneycare doesn’t hold water. He pointed out that in 2009, Romney wrote an op-ed in USA Today advocating an individual mandate as part of nationwide reform.
Romney’s 2009 op-ed does not endorse all aspects of Obamacare. He can credibly claim that he has been a long and vocal critic of the president’s plan. His op-ed implores Obama to drop the “public option”—the idea of a government-provided insurance plan—which the administration eventually did.
But on the hot-button issue of the individual mandate, it’s hard to see a dime’s worth of difference between Obama and Romney.
Can Romney still find a way to credibly run against Obamacare? Can he show that his individual mandate was different from Obama’s?
The answers to these questions should have arisen from the Republican primaries. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum should have raised them at every opportunity. But they didn’t—and so we don’t know whether the issue of the individual mandate has been lost to the Republicans.
The Romney campaign insists that federalism is the important issue in health care. But that’s not what voters think. When it comes to votes, if you cannot run against the individual mandate, you cannot really run against Obamacare at all. You’ve given up that field goal.
This is the real disaster of the Republican primary. No matter what happens on Super Tuesday, the party still won’t know whether they have a candidate prepared for the far longer, far tougher campaign against Obama.
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