On a morning when newspapers across the country are splashed with a feel-good image of President Obama getting man-hugged by a burly Florida restaurant owner, Mitt Romney is embroiled in a bizarre controversy over unfurling, seemingly, three or four different and contradictory positions on ‘Obamacare’ and the fate of people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Some of this is a sign of a disorganized campaign (one I suspect was caught off guard by the potency of the Democratic convention) and some is new evidence of Romney’s ingrained flipfloppery. But some of it, I suspect, goes to the heart of the candidate in a different way.
There have been many signs over the course of this long campaign that Romney remains very proud of his role bringing health care reform to Massachusetts. As well he should. It is far and away his best claim, ironically, to the presidency. While the national political process was gridlocked on an issue of critical import to the country, he brought both parties together to push through a reform that went a big way toward addressing it in his state. It was (rightly) seen as a model for national reform. And sure enough, within a few years, it was passed nationwide. I think Romney will lose in November. And, long term, I think this will be his political epitaph.
In any case, he still thinks it’s awesome. But of course his entire campaign has been based on squelching those feelings.
Only every once in a while it slips out. Remember a short while ago his press secretary got in trouble by pointing out that if those Steel Workers put out of work by Bain had had RomneyCare, everything would have been cool.
It was treated as a gaffe or going off message. But again, I think it stemmed ultimately from the candidate himself. Romney gets the basics of how health care markets function — that you can’t solve things like pre-existing conditions and the rest without having everyone buy into the pool. He has to publicly say that mandates are the antichrist and that the national version of RomneyCare is an abomination. But the fact that he doesn’t really believe either keeps tripping him up.
This isn’t to say he’s a reformer at heart. I have no idea about that. But this is a case where the logic of the campaign has perhaps asked too much of him. He can’t quite let go.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.