Why Romney’s health care speech probably won’t help

Mitt Romney, arguably the frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, has a few hurdles to clear en route to the nomination. He is, after all, a former pro-choice governor who supported gay rights, gun control, and combating climate change, who distanced himself from Reagan, attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers, had a dreadful record on job creation, and changed his mind about more issues than perhaps any politician in America.

But that’s not the central problem. The real concern for Romney is health care.

Romney’s signature accomplishment during his one term as governor — his only experience in public office — was passage of a statewide health care plan. It’s not only a successful policy, but it also cast Romney is a very positive light — the reform law demonstrated his ability to tackle major policy challenges and work with members of both parties to pass a sensible, mainstream legislative milestone.

But President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is awfully similar to Romney’s plan, right down to the individual mandate. It’s the sort of thing that’s likely to undermine Romney’s support among Republicans, and will be a constant target of his GOP rivals.

To get out in front of this story, Romney will deliver a “major” speech in Michigan on Thursday, presenting his health care plan and intention to “repeal and replace Obamacare.” Mark Halperin called Romney’s move “smart,” noting that the former governor “won’t back off” his support for his own reform law, but will release “an updated version of the [plan] he ran on in 2008.”

But Romney’s and Halperin’s confidence is misplaced. Greg Sargent’s reaction was the same as mine.

If Romney really isn’t going to back off Romneycare — and won’t fully repudiate the individual mandate at its core — then it won’t matter what he proposes. His speech won’t solve his political problem at all, at least with conservative opinion-makers.

They are angry with Romney because he employed a policy tool that they have come to regard as tyranny, now that it was used as the lynchpin for Obamacare…. [W]hatever the merits of his proposal, it’s unclear why it would solve his main political problem. When it comes to the individual mandate, many conservatives don’t care about the state-versus-federal distinction he makes. They hate the mandate whether it’s employed on the state or federal level.

Romney, whether he realizes it or not, is stuck. If he continues to support his own state-based law, Romney will be on the hook for a measure most Republicans consider a freedom-destroying government power-grab. He could apologize for his achievement — and is being pressured to do so — but this would negate Romney’s only meaningful accomplishment and reinforce the perception that he’s a weak flip-flopper with no core principles.

Greg has smartly labeled this Romney’s “Gordian Knot.” At this point, it doesn’t look like Thursday’s speech will get the Republican out of it.