ROMNEY PROBABLY DOESN’T WANT AXELROD’S PRAISE…. David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama, is departing the White House, helping shape the president’s 2012 re-election efforts. As he makes the transition, Axelrod chatted with USA Today about the political landscape in general.

In particular, Axelrod reflected on the state of the Republican presidential field — he characterized it as the most unpredictable field in his lifetime — and made one observation about a GOP contender that we’re likely to hear again.

He pointedly praised one of the leading contenders, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in a way that spotlighted Romney’s vulnerability within the GOP for signing a state health care law that parallels the new federal law in some ways.

Romney “did some interesting things there on health care, you know,” Axelrod said. “We got some good ideas from him.”

Well, that’s likely to leave a mark.

The problem, which Axelrod is well aware of, is that the observation happens to be true. For all the right-wing hysterics about the Affordable Care Act being radical communism, the health care reform law is awfully similar to the reform package adopted in Massachusetts, as part of an agreement between Romney and Democratic state lawmakers.

It was Romney’s signature accomplishment during his one term as governor — his only experience in public office. At the time, his success on health care cast Romney in a positive light, demonstrating his ability to tackle major policy challenges and work with members of both parties to pass a sensible, mainstream legislative milestone.

Now, however, Republicans despise the policies that serve as the foundation of Romney’s policy. During his 2008 campaign, this didn’t come up too much — the GOP didn’t realize it hated these ideas, and never bothered to press Romney on his support for measures like the individual mandate. (They didn’t see the point — the mandate was a Republican idea.) In 2012, Romney won’t be as fortunate, and he’s already being pressured to apologize for the one big thing he got done during his only experience in government at any level.

The irony for Romney is that he’s flip-flopped on practically every issue I can think of, but the one position he’s inclined to stick to is the one the GOP base finds wholly unacceptable.

Axelrod knows this, so he’s twisting the proverbial knife, just a little bit.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.