With Newt Gingrich’s poll numbers heading south, conservatives are once again faced with the possibility that Mitt Romney will be the inevitable Republican nominee. So it’s hardly surprising the issue of the former Massachusetts governor’s vulnerability on health care would be revived. Along those lines, Phillip Klein’s piece in today’s Washington Examiner and a blog post by Red State’s Erick Erickson illustrate the continued resistance to Romney by those who believe he cannot be trusted to either successfully oppose Democratic counter-arguments or even to fulfill pledges to repeal Obamacare.
Count me as being one of those who thought the emergence of Obamacare as the one issue that unified the Republican Party in the last two years would constitute an obstacle to his nomination that couldn’t be overcome. But the failure of conservatives to produce a viable candidate has let Romney off the hook. Many on the right, like Klein, think Romney will betray them on health care. But Erickson’s assertion that it is “insanity” for Republicans to nominate either Romney or Newt Gingrich (whom he rightly considers to have a record that is just as questionable on the issue as Romney’s) is itself a sign of a lack of realism about this issue–or the race–on the part of some on the right.
Klein makes an argument that Romney’s previous statements in 2010 about repealing some but not all of Obamacare’s provisions means he is likely to “thumb his nose” at conservatives and let the law stand if he is elected president. Romney is not the only politician whose position on the issue has evolved over the years, but it seems to me that Romney’s campaign pledges on the issue have left him little wiggle room. Moreover, though his arguments that a federal mandate is wrong while a state measure such as the one he signed into law in Massachusetts is legal may strike some conservatives as disingenuous, there is no reason to believe he is any less committed to repealing Obama’s signature law than they are.
Even more to the point, Klein’s claim that Romney’s “record tells us to not trust anything he says while he’s campaigning for office, because his positions will change when he’s trying to appeal to a different electorate” is itself inaccurate. In fact, just the opposite is true. In 2002, Romney campaigned as a moderate and even, as Klein reported himself, as a “progressive.” He then spent the next four years governing as the moderate who liberal Massachusetts wanted. Though conservatives may not believe Romney’s switch to conservatism is credible, if the Massachusetts precedent holds, he will be just as conservative a president as he has been a candidate.
As for Erickson’s frustration with the fact that two men with faulty records on health care are the GOP frontrunners, we have to agree it’s ironic. But the last line of his post shows that this is a reality Republicans are going to have to live with:
Are we really going to do this? I just want everyone to make sure they understand this and remind them that Perry, Bachmann, Huntsman, and yes, even Rick Santorum, are still in the race.
Yes, they are all still in the race. And none of them have a chance to win it. Even more to the point, if any of them did, all would be even weaker opponents against President Obama than Gingrich. Which means that maybe it is time for conservatives to start thinking about making their peace with the likelihood that the imperfect yet viable Romney gives them their best shot to beat the Democrats.