03/17/2011 05:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Jim DeMint Sends Mitt Romney Mixed Messages In Record Time

Mitt Romney knows going into the 2012 GOP primary that the internecine attacks on the CommonwealthCare program he instituted in Massachusetts are going to intensify, from offhand barbs to full-out debate wedge, as his opponents try to paint him as the guy whose idea became the Affordable Care Act. But on Thursday morning, Romney had reason to feel a little relief, as a key figure in at the front of the Tea Party insurgency, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), stepped up to defend him.

The Hill's Michael O'Brien had the news:

"One of the reasons I endorsed Romney [in 2008] is his attempts to make private health insurance available at affordable prices," said Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), a GOP kingmaker.

DeMint blames Democrats in the Massachusetts State Legislature for adding many of the features to Romney's plan that many on the right decry.

"It just depends on how he plays it. For me, I think he started with some good ideas that were essentially hijacked by the Democrat Legislature," DeMint said.

So, at this point, Romney's probably thinking, "Not bad, okay, Jim DeMint's got my back on this." Unfortunately, time passed, and during that time, DeMint apparently changed his mind entirely. Per Holly Bailey at Yahoo's "The Ticket":

An unnamed source "close" to DeMint tells The Hill's Michael O'Brien, who authored the original story, that the tea party leader "would never consider" endorsing Romney in 2012 unless he repudiates the Massachusetts health care law.

That seems like a wild departure from what DeMint first said.

Uhm, yeah! What gives, Jim DeMint?

"It's obvious Jim was just trying to be nice to the guy he backed over McCain, as many conservatives did in 2008," the source now tells The Hill. "But he would never consider backing Romney again unless he admits that his Massachusetts healthcare plan was a colossal mistake."

That's kind of a strange way of "trying to be nice," right? DeMint was a lot nicer, and much clearer, during Romney's first run for the White House, as Greg Sargent points out:

Jim DeMint, who cited Romneycare in a 2007 interview as -- you guessed it -- one of the key reasons he'd decided to endorse Romney:

"DeMint, who spent most of his life in private business, admires Romney's business background and believes Romney has shown the talent to apply that experience to government. 'He has demonstrated, when he stepped into government in a very difficult state, that he could work in a difficult partisan environment, take some good conservative ideas, like private health insurance, and apply them to the need to have everyone insured,' DeMint says. 'Those kind of ideas show an ability to bring people together that we haven't seen in national politics for a while. We don't need the nation to be more polarized.'"

Note that DeMint hailed Romneycare's reliance on "good conservative ideas."

So this has been a pretty confusing day in the life of Mitt Romney and Jim DeMint. I'm pretty sure that DeMint has now flip-flopped on RomneyCare faster and better than Romney has himself, which is amazing.

For what it's worth, the most complimentary take on RomneyCare can be drawn from the facts themselves. As Sargent points out, "the claim by the source close to DeMint that Romneycare was a 'colossal mistake' comes only two days after Gallup released new data showing that thanks in part to this 'colossal mistake,' Massachusetts boasts the lowest percentage of uninsured of any state in the country."

It's too bad Romney's running away from this accomplishment: "Our experiment wasn't perfect -- some things worked, some didn't, and some things I'd change." Lowest percentage of uninsured of any state in the country? Pray tell, Mitt, what would you change?

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