What Romney said (and what he didn’t say)

WHAT ROMNEY SAID (AND WHAT HE DIDN’T SAY)…. Former one-term Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) made his obligatory appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference this morning, and said many of the things everyone expected him to say. It was, however, the topic he avoided that stood out.

The speech itself was largely uninteresting. He blasted Democrats because they “grew the government,” he condemned a cap-and-trade policy he used to support, he criticized education policies he used to praise, he condemned abortion policies he used to agree with, and made a few demonstrably dumb observations about jobs and Russia.

More noteworthy, though, was what Romney didn’t say. The failed former presidential candidate neglected to mention Egypt, which was odd given this morning’s developments in the country, and even more striking, Greg Sargent noted that Romney was the first high-profile CPAC speaker to ignore the Democrats’ Affordable Care Act almost entirely.

Implicit in this morning’s right-leaning Tweets is the suggestion that Romney decided it would be easier not to talk about Obamacare today, in order to avoid calling attention to his Romneycare conundrum. But, amusingly, this has only succeeding in drawing more attention to it.

Romney is caught in a trap: Conservatives continue to demand he explain his heretical support for the mandate in order to persuade them he’s not ideologically suspect. And yet, when Romney does try to justify his support for it — or when he tries to paper over the problem by blustering hard about “Obamacare,” something he conspicuously avoided doing today — all that does is reinforce the sense that he’s ideologically malleable and opportunistic.

Maybe this is Romney’s Gordian Knot: Only cutting Romneycare loose with one big, bold stroke of the sword can undo it. But it’s not clear how he would do that, either.

I’m not at all sure how Romney gets around this. All things being equal, avoiding the subject is arguably his best bet — why draw attention to his biggest problem with his own party’s base? — but that’s apparently not going to work, either.

The fact of the matter is, 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, and championed by Romney.

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 provisions 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.

National Review‘s Jim Geraghty joked this morning, “Look, as long as Obamacare isn’t a big issue in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, Romney will be fine.”

It’s true, though I don’t imagine Romney found this funny.