The contretemps over the HHS mandate can do nothing but help the candidacy of Rick Santorum. For months, Mitt Romney has been lamely defending Romneycare, hiding behind the shriveled fig leaf of the Tenth Amendment to obscure what everyone now acknowledges — that the Massachusetts program is the forebear of and inspiration for Obamacare.
That simple fact ought to be instantly disqualifying in a 2012 GOP presidential candidate — especially after the 2010 landslide, from which the party bosses clearly learned nothing — and it’s a tribute to Romney’s talent, drive, organization and cash that he’s managed to come this far. It also helped that, all by himself, he was fully one-half of the establishment/Tea Party divide, and thus benefited from a split vote for his opponents as long as a divide-and-conquer strategy could work.
But with the field now down to Romney and Santorum (sorry, Newt: I showed you a path to the nomination based on Romney’s inherent weaknesses and you promptly blew it) — and as Santorum’s recent triple victory indicates — the Romney/not-Romney structural balance is starting to come into clear focus, and Mitt’s decisive win in Florida now looks like the outlier. Future results, of course, may vary.
Santorum, a Catholic ethnic with strong blue-collar appeal, should grab the reins of Obamacare and ride it right up Romneycare. Because now that the coercive evil of Obamacare is visible even to E.J. Dionne Jr., Romney’s “signature achievement” during his one term as governor ought to finish him as the GOP standard-bearer.
Meanwhile, Romney’s only chance is to retrain his super PAC Big Berthas on Santorum and pound away. Making the rubble bounce worked against Gingrich, who cheerfully supplied his own rubble. But most voters are just getting to know Rick Santorum, and I suspect it will be far less effective against him.
Thanks to Obama’s inability to control his Punahou-bred playground-bully persona — the in-your-face nature of the mandate was too much even for some of his supporters to stomach — he’s put the Patient Ejection and Unaffordable “Care” Act on the front-burner. In the general election, which Republican candidate is in a better position to exploit it?
Santorum will get precious little help from the sniveling apparatchiks, time-servers, and collaborationists in the “GOP leadership,” but he should pound this issue home at every opportunity and position himself as the champion of the real little guy: not the entitlement loafer whose kids are too dumb to peel their own grapes but the lunch-pail worker who pays for those grapes. This is a fight we’re going to have to have sooner or later, so why not have it now, before the Party of Take completely overwhelms the Party of Give?