Commentary Magazine


HillaryCare Letter Won’t Dent Perry’s Lead

Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan has always been the greatest impediment to his hopes of winning the Republican presidential nomination. However, the surfacing of a 1993 letter from Rick Perry praising Hillary Clinton’s health care initiative may provide a glimmer of hope to Romney. In the letter, which was published by the Daily Caller, the then Texas Agriculture Commissioner lauded the First Lady’s health care plans as “commendable” and lobbied her to make sure farmers and other agricultural workers would be included in the plan which had, as of the time of the writing of the missive, not yet been announced.

This is a potential embarrassment for Perry, who has stood second to none in the GOP in his denunciations of both Obamacare and the government-mandated health care bill that Romney shepherded to passage in the Massachusetts legislature while he was governor. Though Perry’s defense that he didn’t know what Clinton’s plan entailed when he wrote it takes a lot of the sting out of this story, it can still be trotted out by Romney who has twisted himself in knots trying to distinguish his health care initiative from the similar bill passed by Congress last year. Yet, given the fact the first attempt to use the letter against Perry was a flop, Romney ought not to get his hopes up.

The letter first came to light when Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson sought to unseat Perry as governor in 2006. According to the Caller, after a Perry videographer captured Hutchinson embracing Hillary Clinton at an event and used it to buttress claims she was too liberal, the senator’s camp dug up the letter to show Perry’s own Hillary history. Considering Perry had little trouble dispensing with Hutchinson’s challenge (despite the backing she received from Karl Rove and the George W. Bush camp), Romney can’t take much comfort from the precedent.

In recent months, health care hasn’t hurt Romney much because concerns about the grim economic state of the country have overshadowed the Republican rallying cry against Obamacare that swept the 2010-midterm elections. However, the transformation of the GOP race in the last few weeks may revive this issue. With Perry assuming the role of the frontrunner and Romney looking like the only other challenger for the nomination who has even a remote chance of beating him, there’s little doubt the two will soon be slugging it out. That means Romney’s greatest weakness — his record as the governor who signed a government health care bill that resembles the Obamacare legislation almost all Republicans oppose — will be thrown in his face at every opportunity. If the Hillary letter is the best Romney can do to muddy those waters, it won’t be enough to offset the damage the issue will do to his campaign.