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November 02, 2011 2:50 PM Choosing not to swing at ‘Romneycare’

By Steve Benen

In March, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) took a not-so-subtle shot at Mitt Romney’s record on health care in the context of the 2012 presidential campaign. “It’s not that dissimilar to ObamaCare,” Ryan said of Romney’s reform law in Massachusetts. “And you probably know I’m not a big fan of ObamaCare.”

Now, however, the right-wing Wisconsinite is singing a different tune. Asked about the striking similarities between Romney’s and Obama’s reform laws, Ryan said this week, “I don’t think this question matters that much anymore.”

It speaks to what I consider the biggest surprise of the presidential race so far: Romney is simply getting a pass on health care. The former governor’s health care included an individual mandate forcing taxpayers to purchase insurance; it provided benefits to immigrants who entered the country illegally; and it covers abortion — and somehow, this hardly ever comes up in the middle of the GOP primary contest. A year ago, the right was saying Romney wouldn’t even be considered unless he renounced and apologized for his health care law, and now, it’s effectively become a non-issue.

Jonathan Bernstein had a good piece the other day, referencing the last Kaiser survey data on health care, and concluding that Romney’s GOP rivals are “blowing it.”

First, the context: as you might expect, Republicans really hate Barack Obama’s health care reform, with an 11/81 split against it and almost two-thirds “very unfavorable.” And those who know about the Massachusetts plan have a similar opinion, which isn’t strange since the basic structure is so similar (although lacking the important ingredient of Barack Obama, as I’ve argued): Republicans oppose Romneycare by a 6-1 margin.

But the key number isn’t how many Republicans dislike health care in Massachusetts; it’s how many don’t know enough to offer an opinion. That would be a whopping 77% (and even more telling, it’s the same number for likely primary voters as it is for all Republicans in the survey). Kaiser also asked about whether the Massachusetts reform was similar to the national reform law, with the same results: 69% of likely primary voters didn’t have an opinion. Of those who did, 18% said it was similar while 11% thought otherwise.

So here we are, just 10 weeks from the Iowa caucuses, and Mitt Romney’s opponents have so far completely failed to let Republican voters know about his (presumably) biggest weakness.

At least in the primary phase, this was supposed to be a weight on Romney’s shoulders. How could he run for the Republican nomination after providing the blueprint for the health care law that the GOP hates with the heat of a thousand suns? How could Republican voters condemn government health care mandates to be the most offensive policy in American history, and then nominate for president the only governor in America to impose a health care mandate on his constituents?

But these details only make a difference if someone tells GOP voters about it. At this point, it looks like “Romneycare” is a hanging curve, right over the middle of the plate, but the rest of the Republican field just doesn’t want to swing.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • AK Liberal on November 02, 2011 3:02 PM:

    At this point, it looks like "Romneycare" is a hanging curve, right over the middle of the plate, but the rest of the Republican field just doesn't want to swing.

    It's as if they aren't really serious about winning. Is everyone, but Mitt running for V/P?

  • walt on November 02, 2011 3:07 PM:

    Tim Pawlenty's whiff was the most pronounced. Some of the others seem so dull-witted that I wonder if they can even explain the sinister similarities between the Romney's plan and the Great Satan's.

    As for the Republican voters, they're hating anything they're instructed to hate. You have an insane clown posse as GOP presidential hopefuls only because the rank-and-file GOP voter is an idiot.

  • Rick Massimo on November 02, 2011 3:10 PM:

    The GOP agenda since 2010 has had one item on it, and Beating the Kenyan Muslim Interloper is it. Mitt Romney has (until last week's "let it bottom out" business) assiduously avoided actually saying out loud anything the GOP really believes, so he's got a chance. So he must be protected and promoted. That's all this is.

    "Is everyone but Mitt running for VP?"

    Yes.

  • Steve M. on November 02, 2011 3:26 PM:

    Now, however, the right-wing Wisconsinite is singing a different tune. Asked about the striking similarities between Romney’s and Obama’s reform laws, [Paul] Ryan said this week, “I don’t think this question matters that much anymore.”

    Looks like somebody wants to be #2 on the ticket....

  • bdop4 on November 02, 2011 3:29 PM:

    "But the key number isn’t how many Republicans dislike _________________________; it’s how many don’t know enough to offer an opinion."

    You can fill the blank any way you like, and it pretty accurately describes republican voters.

  • jeri on November 02, 2011 3:42 PM:

    My guess is they don't want to dirty him up too much for the general. If there's no daylight between OHB and Mitt on this, it's one less reason for the Great Independents On Whom Everything Depends to vote for Mitt.

  • Anonymous on November 02, 2011 3:50 PM:

    At this point, it looks like �Romneycare� is a hanging curve, right over the middle of the plate, but the rest of the Republican field just doesn�t want to swing.

    Of course they don't, not since they woke up on Monday and found the horses' head that Uncle Karl had left in their beds....

    And it looks like he's got a real sh*tstorm planned for Ramblin' Rick and Horny Herman if they won't play ball. Fun's not over yet, fellas.

  • biggerbox on November 02, 2011 4:07 PM:

    Wait, so most voters don't even know about Romney-care, and he STILL can't get his support higher than it is? Wow. I was assuming they'd already processed it, and that was part of his low numbers. Ouch.

  • Derek on November 02, 2011 4:23 PM:

    I for one find this to be rather good news. If Romney makes it far enough to actually have a debate with The Obamanator, this will be one among many crushing blows that comes rather easily. The other contenders at least are so unlike anything Obama stands for, they may in fact be more difficult to vilify to the Right's base.

  • DougMN on November 02, 2011 4:34 PM:

    Looks like everyone here has got it taken care of. Mittens is running for president, everyone else is running for a spot at Fox or has a book to sell. The debates and primaries are a show for the tea party rubes.

  • TCinLA on November 02, 2011 5:39 PM:

    IOKIYAR

  • Doug on November 02, 2011 8:50 PM:

    "But these details only make a difference if someone tells GOP voters about it." Steve Benen

    81% of Republicans oppose the ACA.
    60% of Republicans who are aware of Romney's MA HC law oppose it.
    81 - 60 = 21, aka Romney's support (roughly). Depending on the margin of error, anyway.
    If Romney is, so far, the only Republican candidate who polls as being a viable contender against President Obama, how much additional support can he expect from those who so actively detest the ACA? Even allowing for the well-known ability Republicans have in convincing themselves that up is down, black is white, etc, can they convince themselves that the ACA ISN'T directly descended from "Romneycare"? While they may swallow it, can they keep it down? Enough to vote for Romney?
    Aka, the godfather of the ACA...

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