Romney doesn’t know how to fix his health care problem

This morning offered multiple reminders that Mitt Romney has a health care problem. The leading Republican presidential candidate created a state law that’s nearly identical to the Affordable Care Act, and has supported individual health care mandates — poison in GOP circles — for about two decades.

Romney decided to address the problem head-on today. It wasn’t so much a speech as a presentation — the former Massachusetts governor had no pre-written text, and instead led a PowerPoint presentation in a classroom. For all the complaints that President Obama is too professorial, Romney was literally like a professor today, leading a class in RomneyCare 101.

To his credit, the former governor didn’t dodge the controversy. To his detriment, he didn’t tell Republicans what they wanted to hear. As Benjy Sarlin explained:

[H]e took the issue [of mandates] head on, issuing a thorough and impassioned defense of his state’s health care law — even as he pledged never to apply it to the rest of the country.

“I respect the views of those who think we took the wrong course and who think we should have taken a different course,” he said. “I also recognize that a lot of pundits around the nation are saying that I should say that was a bone-headed idea and I presume folks would think that would be good for me politically. But there’s only one problem with that. It wouldn’t be honest. I in fact did what I thought was right for the people of my state.”

I found watching the presentation rather awkward. On the one hand, Romney made odd, patently false claims about the Affordable Care Act and President Obama’s approach. On the other, he offered impassioned defenses of policies I and other lefties agree with, including mandates.

Indeed, one of the great ironies of the day was hearing Romney do a better job of supporting mandates than any Democrat in a long while. The more he explained the benefits of the reform plan he championed in Massachusetts, the more obvious it became that he could have just as easily been defending the Affordable Care Act, since they’re effectively the same thing.

I’m not sure if Romney has fully thought the politics of this through. Republicans want him to denounce his ACA-style law and reject mandates, and today, he did the opposite. Romney made a half-hearted attempt to condemn a national mandate, but he’s still stuck with an unpersuasive line: if the federal government imposes a mandate, it’s tyranny; if a state government imposes a mandate, it’s a great and effective idea that should be applied nationally.

What it ultimately boils down to is this: Romney recognizes the mandate as a good policy and he hasn’t figured out a way to pretend otherwise.

For a GOP candidate accused by the Wall Street Journal editorial board of being “Obama’s running mate,” there’s every reason to believe Romney’s problems just got worse.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Romney expressed support for the French health care system — that’s likely to play well with the GOP base, right? — and said he wouldn’t pursue the House Republican plan to privatize Medicare.

The initial reviews from some on the right weren’t positive. Jonah Goldberg joked that Romney appeared to be auditioning for “David Axelrod’s job”; Peter Suderman said Romney made “a much better case for ObamaCare than against it”; and Jennifer Rubin said, “The only idea dumber than this speech was strapping the Irish setter to the top of the car.”

Ouch.