Though it hasn’t played a significant role in the Republican presidential race, at least not yet, Mitt Romney still has a health care mandate to deal with. More so than any of his rivals, the former governor sees no problem with the government requiring the public to purchase health insurance.

Sean Hannity asked Romney about this the other day, and Romney told the truth: the individual mandate “was seen as a conservative idea.”

And on this, he’s right. As I may have mentioned once or twice, the health care mandate the right now sees as a freedom-killing abuse by a tyrannical government was, in fact, a Republican idea. Nixon embraced it in the 1970s, and George H.W. Bush supported the idea in the 1980s. When Dole endorsed the mandate in 1994, it was in keeping with the party’s prevailing attitudes at the time. Romney embraced the mandate as governor and it was largely ignored during the ’08 campaign, since it was in keeping with the GOP mainstream.

In recent years, the mandate has also been embraced by the likes of John McCain, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett, Tommy Thompson, Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham, John Thune, and Scott Brown, among many others. Indeed, several of them not only endorsed the policy, they literally co-sponsored legislation that included a mandate.

But Romney’s the one running for president, and he’s the one sticking to the mandate even after his party has moved away from the idea. And this, apparently, has inspired the White House to give Romney a series of “death hugs,” including this one on Thursday, when Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the Supreme Court considering the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t think there was any expectation other than that eventually this would require a legal review. I think that’s been the case of major domestic legislation of all kinds, including Social Security and Medicare. […]

“A former governor of Massachusetts just said the other day, ‘The idea for a health care plan in Massachusetts was not mine alone. The Heritage Foundation, a great conservative think tank, helped on that. I’m told that Newt Gingrich, one of the very first people who came up with the idea of an individual mandate, did that years and years ago. It was seen as a conservative idea to say, you know what, people have a responsibility for caring for themselves if they can. We’ll help people who can’t care for themselves, but if you can care for yourself, you’ve got to take care of yourself and pay your own bills.’

“That’s the former governor of Massachusetts describing the individual mandate and why it’s smart policy, and we certainly agree.”

The White House sure does seem to enjoy emphasizing the area of agreement between President Obama and Mitt Romney on health care. Several members of the team, including the president himself, have been only too pleased to declare how much they agree with Romney on health care and press the notion that the so-called “Romneycare” plan served as a blueprint for the Affordable Care Act. It not only helps give the Obama line some bipartisan cover, but it also helps undermine a leading 2012 rival.

Romney’s GOP rivals are slowly recognizing this as an important issue. Campaigning in Georgia yesterday, Rick Perry said, “I knew when I got into this race I would have my hands full fighting President Obama’s big government agenda. I just didn’t think it would be in the Republican primary.”

It’s only a matter of time before there’s an ad showing Obama, Carney, Axelrod, and Plouffe, all praising Romney on health care.

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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.