If you want to get a feel for how difficult it's going to be for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to thread the needle he needs to thread in his "major speech on health care today," Jon Ward's piece on these pages from yesterday is a great place to start. Yes, Romney will, in all likelihood, make it clear that as President, his Day One task will be scuttling the Affordable Care Act, but the internecine opposition he's drawing on his own health care record is going to be difficult to surmount. When Grover Norquist is telling you that your singular legislative achievement is a "boat anchor" around your neck, and Karl Rove is opining that your based-in-Federalism argument is insufficient to the task of defending your actions as governor, your problems are legion.
Jon's piece came ahead of an absolutely brutal editorial in The Wall Street Journal, which will only make matters worse. The sting comes right in the sub-hed: "Mitt Romney's ObamaCare Problem." And it contains paragraphs like this one:
As everyone knows, the health reform Mr. Romney passed in 2006 as Massachusetts Governor was the prototype for President Obama's version and gave national health care a huge political boost. Mr. Romney now claims ObamaCare should be repealed, but his failure to explain his own role or admit any errors suggests serious flaws both in his candidacy and as a potential President.
And this one:
There's a lot to learn from the failure of the ObamaCare model that began in Massachusetts, which is now moving to impose price controls on all hospitals, doctors and other providers. Not that anyone would know listening to Mr. Romney. In the paperback edition of his campaign book "No Apology," he calls the plan a "success," and he has defended it in numerous media appearances as he plans his White House run.
The big takeaway here is that the whole notion that "RomneyCare begat ObamaCare" is no longer just some talking point. Rather, it's an idea that has now reached such widespread penetration that whether you support the health care reform package that President Barack Obama signed into law or oppose it with equal fervor, you recognize that its very existence depends entirely on Mitt Romney.
The unremarked-upon irony of this situation is that it's fair to say that Mitt Romney's existence -- as a credible candidate for President -- depends entirely upon his Massachusetts health care reform. Flashback to 2008, and you'll probably recall that CommonwealthCare is the innovation that brought Romney to the heights of a national campaign in the first place. (A tertiary accomplishment was his management of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.) Four years ago, the conventional wisdom was that Romney had deftly co-opted universal health care coverage as an issue, and demonstrated -- as only a governor could, goes the narrative -- the ability to actually stop talking about the problem and craft a solution.
Over at Politico, they've got a "What Romney Needs To Do" post up. The four-step process basically boils down to: 1) restate the same arguments about how RomneyCare is different from ObamaCare that no longer wash with anyone, 2) offer a sort-of apology, like Tim Pawlenty did on cap-and-trade at the South Carolina debate (Pawlenty was rewarded with poll numbers that put him behind Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann, proving once again that there's nothing better in politics than an almost-apology, right?), 3) then, don't apologize for it, by sticking up for the individual mandate that the GOP base hates, and 4) try to dazzle the viewers with a PowerPoint presentation, because PowerPoint is the vehicle through which managerial deftness flows.
Naturally, I feel compelled to warn Romney that following Politico's advice is a trap! If things run true to form, then tomorrow, Politico will criticize Romney for doing the things they suggested.
Of course, if he wanted to, Romney could make the bold choice and say, "You know what, I did this in Massachusetts and I'm right." And, as he can no longer defeat the argument that the Affordable Care Act didn't not flow naturally from his actions as the governor of Massachusetts, he could begin to advance the argument that the implementation of his idea requires the management skills of the man who invented it.
That wouldn't satisfy the conservative critics that want to see some kind of renunciation. But what choice does Mitt have? What would be left of the man? Any renunciation of his health care reform achievement is essentially a renunciation of the entire idea that Mitt Romney should be running for President in the first place.