Igor Volsky flagged a great piece from Nancy French, who reported the other day that Rick Santorum supported an individual health care mandate when he ran for the Senate in 1994. His primary opponent, Joe Watkins, supported the same policy.

French highlighted this report from April 1994:

Santorum and Watkins both oppose having businesses provide health care for their employees. Instead, they would require individuals to purchase insurance.

And this report, published a month later:

Santorum and Watkins would require individuals to buy health insurance rather than forcing employers to pay for employee benefits.

For those keeping score at home, that means there are six Republican presidential candidates, and four of them, at one time or another, supported an individual health care mandate — an idea GOP officials now consider an unconstitutional, authoritarian nightmare.

Given Santorum’s far-right ideology, does this news come as something of a surprise? Actually, no. Santorum’s position in 1994, and that of his primary challenger, was entirely in line with mainstream Republican thought.

In case anyone’s forgotten, this was a Republican idea in the first place. Nixon embraced the mandate in the 1970s, and George H.W. Bush supported the idea in the 1980s. When Bob Dole endorsed the mandate in 1994, it was in keeping with the party’s prevailing attitudes at the time. Mitt Romney embraced the mandate as governor and it was largely ignored during the 2008 campaign, since it was such a common GOP position.

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

In the summer of 2009, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the leading Republican lawmakers in the talks over health care reform, told Fox News, “I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have an individual mandate.” Did Fox News freak out? Did GOP leaders immediately distance themselves from the comments? Was Grassley forced to immediately backpedal? No, none of those things happened. Grassley said there was a bipartisan consensus to have an individual mandate because there was a bipartisan consensus to have an individual mandate.

But that was before Republicans decided they’re against the ideas they’re for, and this issue could be twisted into a political weapon to be used against the president.

Santorum backed a mandate in 1994? Well, sure, of course he did. It would have been more surprising if he hadn’t.

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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.