It's probably fair to say I haven't exactly masked my exasperation over the Republican field's near-comprehensive failure to press front-runner Mitt Romney on one of his glaring vulnerabilities: Romneycare. The only guy who made even a half-hearted attempt on this front was Tim "Obamneycare" Pawlenty, who proceeded to drop out of the race and endorse you-know-who. Rick Perry attempted to go after Romney on this point in Orlando, but did so quite clumsily, allowing Romney to again slither away unscathed. Finally, the Perry campaign has produced a killer 60-second ad that places the issue front-and-center in advance of tomorrow night's Bloomberg/Washington Post debate in Hanover, New Hampshire. This spot could leave a mark -- if someone is equipped and willing to hammer away at its theme over the coming weeks:
The Romney campaign has already fired back in an email, smacking "Perry's problem with the truth." They allege Perry's ad takes the former Massachusetts Governor's words out of context (a practice Team Perry camp was caught red-handed engaging in a few weeks ago on a separate subject):
Perry’s Latest Video Again Deploys A Clipped And Misleading Version Of Governor Romney’s Words. RUSSERT: “Why, if it's good for Massachusetts and it's working in Massachusetts, wouldn't you apply it to the rest of the country?” ROMNEY: “I would.” (NBC’s “Meet The Press,” 12/16/07)
The Full Quote – Free From Perry’s Selective Editing – Shows Governor Romney’s True Position. RUSSERT: “Why, if it's good for Massachusetts and it's working in Massachusetts, wouldn't you apply it to the rest of the country?” ROMNEY: “I would.” RUSSERT: “A mandate?” ROMNEY: “No. Let me tell you what I would do, just exactly as I described. I like what we did in Massachusetts. I think it's a great plan. But I'm a federalist. I don't believe in applying what works in one state to all states if different states have different circumstances.” (NBC’s “Meet The Press,” 12/16/07)
So Romney said he would apply the principles of Romneycare to the entire country, right before he said that he might not, based on federalism. I don't think the Perry people were wrong to clip the video where they did. If anything, Romney's follow-up hedge underscores another significant issue he'll have to overcome to win the presidency: Serial flip-flopping. Mitt Romney has gone to great lengths to draw distinctions between his Massachusetts law and Obamacare. He makes a few persuasive points (no IPAB, no direct tax hikes as pay-fors), but many of his arguments simply don't pass muster. Let's revisit a scathing Wall Street Journal editorial from May to remind us why:
Massachusetts took off on this entitlement trajectory after Mr. Romney signed the bill in 2006 and stepped down to run for President two years later. Let's go to the data, all of which are state-reported, in search of evidence of Mr. Romney's "success." The only good news we can find is that the uninsured rate has dropped to 2% today from 6% in 2006. Yet four out of five of the newly insured receive low- or no-cost coverage from the government. The subsidies will cost at least $830 million in 2011 and are growing, conservatively measured, at 5.1% a year. Total state health-care spending as a share of the budget has grown from about 16% in the 1980s to 30% in 2006 to 40% today. The national state average is about 25%.
The safety-net fund that was supposed to be unwound, well, wasn't. Uncompensated hospital care rose 5% from 2008 to 2009, and 15% from 2009 to 2010, hitting $475 million (though the state only paid out $405 million). "Avoidable" use of emergency rooms—that is, for routine care like a sore throat—increased 9% between 2004 and 2008. Meanwhile, unsubsidized insurance premiums for individuals and small businesses have climbed to among the highest in the nation.
Like Mr. Obama's reform, RomneyCare was predicated on the illusion that insurance would be less expensive if everyone were covered. Even if this theory were plausible, it is not true in Massachusetts today. So as costs continue to climb, Mr. Romney's Democratic successor now wants to create a central board of political appointees to decide how much doctors and hospitals should be paid for thousands of services.
New polls put Romney comfortably ahead in New Hampshire, and slightly ahead nationally. It's not a stretch to suggest that he's in decent postition to become the Republican nominee for president. In many ways, he's an attractive candidate, but his flaws are iridescent. If he's going to win the GOP nomination, he needs to earn it. Earning it involves subjecting oneself to a rigorous vetting process, and responding, in depth, to substantive policy criticisms. In my view, Romney has not adequately done this yet -- largely because his opponents have been woefully inept at compelling him to do so. Maybe, hopefully, this ad will stir things up a bit.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography