Romney’s allies-turned-critics have some explaining to do

ROMNEY’S ALLIES-TURNED-CRITICS HAVE SOME EXPLAINING TO DO…. It’s easy to forget, three years later, but in the 2008 race for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney actually enjoyed considerable conservative support. Giuliani was too liberal on too many issues, Huckabee didn’t care about national security or foreign policy, and McCain never enjoyed strong ties to the hard-right base.

It’s exactly why we saw folks like Jim DeMint, Rick Santorum, and the editorial board of the Weekly Standard rally behind Romney’s ultimately unsuccessful campaign.

But like Greg Sargent, I find it deeply amusing to see these same folks scramble to distance themselves from Romney, in large part because of the only meaningful policy accomplishment of his career: health care reform in Massachusetts.

DeMint, as we discussed yesterday, wants Romney to “admit” that his achievement, which has proven to be quite successful, was a “colossal mistake.” Today, Santorum offered a similar sentiment.

As Greg notes, just as DeMint approved of Romney’s health care policy three years ago, Santorum had no questions about Romney’s commitment to conservative principles when he endorsed the governor in ’08.

According to Santorum, Romney believes in “government control of the health care system.” It doesn’t get dirtier than that. Yet it turns out that Santorum endorsed Romney back in 2008, in the full knowledge that Romney had passed Romneycare. Why? Here’s why:

“Governor Romney is the candidate who will stand up for the conservative principles that we hold dear…Governor Romney has a deep understanding of the important issues confronting our country today, and he is the clear conservative candidate that can go into the general election with a united Republican Party.”

For Romney, this is obviously a mess. He’s going to get slammed, and perhaps even defeated, for supporting a policy that conservatives used to be entirely comfortable with. Hell, in DeMint’s case, the “colossal mistake” of a heath care policy helped Romney earn an endorsement in the first place.

But putting aside the former governor’s obvious predicament, I still think there’s an important challenge facing everyone on the right who backed Romney three years ago, and who wants him to apologize for health care now. Either these folks (a) endorsed Romney for president without even looking at his sole accomplishment; or (b) they need to admit a policy they liked in 2008 is an example of radical liberalism in 2011.

Indeed, I’m not inclined to give GOP presidential candidates advice, but this strikes me as a sensible way for Romney to get off the ropes on this issue. When pressed for a reversal, Romney can say, for example, “I support the same policy Rick Santorum and Jim DeMint approved of a few years ago. I haven’t changed; why have they?”