Just a few weeks ago, hope seemed to be fading that Governor Romney would find a way to get the upper hand in the health-care debate with President Obama. Romney’s candidacy has many strengths. Because of his background, he is very well positioned to carry the party’s economic message, which is almost certainly why he won the nomination. But on health care, former senator Rick Santorum — the last serious Republican contender with Romney for the nomination — surely had it right when he said Romney was not the best person to prosecute the case against Obamacare. After all, the health-care legislation Romney championed in Massachusetts is now known (somewhat unfairly) as the plan that became the model for Obamacare, most especially because it included a mandate that individuals purchase health insurance. Democrats clearly relish the thought of President Obama’s reminding voters that the legislation Romney denounces as a “government takeover” shares some critical features with the legislation he himself signed into law.
So expectations among conservatives for a strong Romney performance on health care have been low. They fell even lower when the Supreme Court upheld most of Obamacare’s key provisions as constitutional. A general sense of resignation had started to settle in that, in 2012, Obamacare would not be exploited as a political opportunity as Romney focused entirely on the president’s miserable economic record.