Our experiment wasn’t perfect—some things worked, some didn’t, and some things I’d change. One thing I would never do is to usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover.
What worked? What didn’t? What, most importantly, would you change, sir? That question is going to be asked by David Gregory or Bob Schieffer the next time Romney goes on one of the Sunday shows. And if it isn’t asked then, it’ll sure as heck be asked at the first primary debate. And if Mitt Romney is going to be president, he is going to have to at least make it sound like he’s got an answer for it. And it’s difficult to see how that answer could not involve him defending some or other policy that is a major moving part of Obamacare.
It won’t be easy. It looks like he’s decided more or less to dig in around the federalist defense of Romneycare, which I’ve always thought was the most promising tack. (I think disowning it wholesale would do him as much harm as good). He also has to find subtle but sound-bite friendly ways of saying something to the effect of, “Look, I was the Republican governor of Massachusetts, what would you have had me do?” or “Hey, it’s not like I did single payer.” Indeed, Massachusettians have long accepted the tradeoffs associated with an extensive welfare state, so Romney could make the argument that delivering them near-universal coverage made him responsive to his constituents and respectful of the social contract under which he was elected to govern.
That’s one argument, anyway. The other argument is that leaders are elected to lead, and how can we trust a President Romney not to go all wobbly if the prevailing winds in Washington, and the opinion polls, are headed in the direction of some fresh federal overreach? Oh, and it probably doesn’t bode well for Romney that the historical analogy that keeps popping into my head whenever I think about ways he might be able to thread the needle on Obamacare in the Republican primary — is Stephen A. Douglas and “popular sovereignty.”