In an interview with Fox News this weekend, former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that his campaign "underestimated" the attractiveness of ObamaCare, particularly among people with lower incomes. Given the health law's sagging poll numbers, it's hard to make a strong case that ObamaCare helped seal the deal for the president. Either way, though, the remark tells us more about Romney than it does about how ObamaCare plays with voters.
After all, Romney often seems to understand the election in strictly transactional terms. Just a few weeks after the election, Romney blamed his loss on President Obama's "gifts" to the electorate, telling donors that "what the president's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote."
More importantly, Romney has long viewed ObamaCare as basically a good idea. He passed its state based predecessor in Massachusetts, and he repeatedly touted it as a model for the nation. He also chose his top campaign adviser, Stuart Stevens, in large part because Stevens broke from other GOP consultants in telling Romney that he didn't need to disavow the Massachusetts health care plan.
Indeed, it seems reasonable to suspect that Romney's staunch opposition to ObamaCare during the campaign was at least partially a put-up job. Sure, Romney would have implemented an ObamaCare-style national health law somewhat differently, but he supported the basic concept, which provided the backbone for his own health law.
You can imagine this frustrating Romney. When RomneyCare passed back in 2006, a lot of folks in Massachusetts viewed it as a bid for the presidency: Romney was going to run as the Republican who made health care reform happen. It was going to be his signature achievement. Instead, it turned out to be Obama's, and Romney was stuck in the deeply awkward position of defending the Massachusetts overhaul while taking a hard line against the president's. So at this point my theory is that Romney may be a bit peeved that Obama got to run on a sweeping health care reform and he didn't. Or, to put it another way, maybe Romney wanted this to be his gift and not Obama's.
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