The issue, finally, is a dagger aimed at the heart of the coalition that Romney wants to build to win the primaries. It appears that this time around Romney is not trying to run as the movement-conservative candidate but instead as an establishment man. To do that he has to unite pragmatic business-oriented conservatives and more ideological economic conservatives. Both groups listen to such voices as the editors of the Wall Street Journal — who are attacking Romneycare with a ferocity they usually reserve for left-wing Democrats.
Some observers insist that Romney can overcome this problem relatively easily. He is still doing much better than Tim Pawlenty or Mitch Daniels in the polls. Pollster David Paleologos found that he had a 25-point lead in the New Hampshire primary and that a majority said that the Massachusetts health-care law would have “no effect” on their vote.
Romney gave his health-care speech because he knows that these numbers are misleading. He is better known, nationally and in New Hampshire, than his rivals, which is a real asset but a diminishing one. More important, none of his rivals have yet run ads attacking the Massachusetts plan or quoting Obama’s praise for it or Romney’s “I would be happy to take credit.” Romney hasn’t participated in a candidate debate where the resemblance of Romneycare to Obamacare was an issue. (The lines write themselves. “Governor, you say that the legislature made the bill worse. So why did you still sign it?”) There is no reason to think that the damage this issue can do to Romney has already taken place.
It will, in short, be extremely hard for Romney to win his party’s nomination without solving his health-care problem. So how does he solve it?
He doesn t.
— Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review. This article originally appeared in the June 6, 2011, issue of National Review.