08.03.12 2:00 AM ET
The Answer is Romneycare
"Cuts his own taxes, raises yours by $2,000." That's the Obama campaign's new attack ad against Mitt Romney, and yeah, it draws blood.
Does it draw enough blood to offset Obama's own great weakness, the sluggish post-2009 recovery? Chris Cillizza draws attention to this chart at the Political Math blog which sums up in one image why Obama's re-election prospects look so clouded:
Maybe yes, maybe no. The problem with the Romney campaign is that it is all sword, no shield. Romney has a fierce line of attack against Barack Obama. He lacks any defense against the Obama campaign's counter-charges: that his wealth has isolated him from the concerns of working Americans.
Yet he once had such a defense, a defense he spent his term as governor of Massachusetts developing: Romneycare. The governor who achieved America's first state-wide system of universal health coverage could be accused of a lot of things, but not of indifference to the welfare of everyday working people.
Unfortunately, the same forces in the GOP that pressed Romney to adopt a second big tax cut for upper-income people—to 28%—had previously successfully pressed him to jettison his own most important public accomplishment.
In the Republican primaries, the candidates vied to present themselves as the fiercest Obama hater of them all. Obamacare became issue 1, and the similarities between Obamacare and Romneycare made a natural target. The dissimilarities—including the most important of them all, the financing mechanism—interested virtually nobody. Romney retreated under attack. Not his finest hour, but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Attempting to reason with enraged people may only enrage them more.
The primaries ended long ago. For the public, Obamacare is not Issue 1, or 2, or even 3. (Those are, respectively: jobs, corruption, and the deficit.) If anything, many features of Obamacare are highly popular. It seems silly to let the party base drive a national campaign into places that are bad politics, bad policy, and untrue to the party nominee's own biography.
Instead of allowing opposition to Obamacare to entrap Romney into repudiating his own healthcare record altogether, he should explain to a national audience what the Republican primary electorate did not want to hear: that Obamacare is flawed because it pays for itself with an especially destructive set of tax increases, because it expands Medicaid too much rather than relying on private insurance, and because it does not include enough cost-saving. The goal of broader coverage, however, Republicans do not have to repudiate. They can embrace it, and they can prove their sincerity with the record of their nominee.
It's not too late! It's not a flip-flop for a candidate to overcome the misguided internal opposition of one party faction, and remind the country of his own prior actions on behalf of working Americans. Mitt Romney, the candidate who supposedly cares nothing for the middle class, in fact led the way on health insurance for all. It's a message that can fit into a 30-second ad and onto a car bumper sticker. But what the campaign does not say, the country won't know.