I was planning on writing about the politics of good governance today because the strangeness of Mitt Romney’s biggest liability within the GOP (besides his Mormonism) has to do with one of his greatest successes as governor.
If I were a Republican politician – I would embrace the fact that the President successfully advocated for a conservative health care policy. I would use his success to alienate him from his base. I would say things like – “You see, even the Democrats don’t like liberal ideas!” Or, “It really is a testament to the smart people in our party that the Democrats have slowly come to embrace our ideas.” Because alienation of the left is, in many ways, the political story of the last 30-ish years. Consider how Ezra Klein traces the evolution of health care policy positions in his reaction to Mitt’s op-ed this morning:
I’d say Romney made the only move left to him — and to the Republican Party. A capsule history of health-care reform is that Democrats began with single-payer and Republicans, led by Richard Nixon, countered with an employer-based system. Then, in the 1990s, Democrats proposed an employer-based system and Republicans countered with an individual mandate — which Romney actually passed in Massachusetts in 2005. Then, in 2009, Democrats proposed a system based around an individual mandate and Republicans countered with a vague promise to “repeal-and-replace.” They were out of ideas.
The only solution-like proposal left on the table is to devolve responsibility to the states, and Romney is smart to get there first. The question, I think, is whether the GOP unites around some version of this idea or whether Romney has become so radioactive on health care that by proposing a federalist solution, he actually takes it off the table for the Republicans running against him.
The fact that the Democrats have come to accept formerly Republican policy should be considered a political win for the Republicans, no? If I were to give any advice to Republicans it would be – stop running to the right, push the Democrats to the left.
Why do Republicans insist on letting the Democrats continue to co-opt the center?
It is my opinion that the Republican who claims victory for conservatism first – essentially claiming victory in the Reagan revolution – will be able to win both an uber conservative Republican primary AND the White House. Here is why:
The Democratic base is frustrated. We have had two Presidents in the last twenty years that have given us reason to hope for the second-coming of liberalism – only to co-opt the political center and embrace formerly conservative ideas. Our party keeps moving away from us because we have nowhere else to go.
Similarly, the Republican base is frustrated. As the country has moved to the right in terms of policy (see Taxes, Regulation, Privatization of Government, Defense Spending, Supreme Court etc.) major victories for conservatism have become more difficult to come by. The Republicans want to dismantle the welfare state and bring us back to a point somewhere before the Hoover administration, but we all know that is all but impossible. So Republicans should, being stuck somewhere between a rock and a hard place, push back off the rock towards the center.
Republicans also face an ideas and credibility deficit dilemma. The party’s loudest voices insist that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that the President wasn’t born in the US among other things that are demonstrably false. The “no new taxes” mantra is losing its flavor as reasonable people are looking for reasonable solutions beyond a three word answer. (How did that whole “trickle down” thing work out by the way?) It seems as though the inmates are running the asylum. Republican politics are slowly beginning to resemble a new brand of ideological fundamentalism. For example, the Republican reaction to George Bush’s failed presidency was that he wasn’t conservative enough. So, don’t blame Republicans for Republican failures because those Republicans weren’t Republican enough. It is a tough thing to write with a straight face, but the party loyal believe this garbage. By claiming victory – instead of saying those who wore your uniform in defeat weren’t actually on your team – Republicans could make a strong case for themselves as honest brokers. They could then embrace those ideas that fall somewhere in the middle and work towards compromise instead of working to dismantle a system that most people like. Don’t believe me, try advocating for any major change to Medicare or Social Security.
Consider this poll from before the 2010 election:
The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, sponsored by SHRM, finds more positive than negative reactions to a candidate who is willing to make compromises. A substantial minority (42%) say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who will make compromises with people they disagree with; only about half as many (22%) say they would be less likely to back a candidate willing to compromise, while 29% say it will make no difference. But there is a wide partisan divide. More than twice as many Republicans (40%) as Democrats (19%) or independents (15%) say they would be less willing to favor a candidate willing to compromise.
40% of Republicans in 2010 surveyed would be less willing to support someone who compromises. When elections are won in the center, is this not a major concern for the Republicans? To win a Republican party in today’s climate you have to run off the edge of the political earth on the right and then make the epic sprint to the center without alienating your base – 40% of whom will be less willing to support you as you make your way to the center. If instead Republicans stopped fleeing to the right and stood firmly where they were on the issues all while making the case that the Democrats were coming towards them – they would force the Democrats to justify themselves to their base. Imagine how disarming it would be in a debate if the Republican was asked about health care and he or she said, “Yeah, I am glad President Obama decided to embrace a long held conservative position. It goes to show that we Republicans have had the right idea for a long time.” President Obama could not effectively rebut this claim. Mitt Romney is the only candidate who could effectively take this stand and unfortunately he will undermine himself by trying to pretend that Romneycare is not the same as Obamacare. Actually, besides the whole Federalism distraction, one major difference is that Romneycare covers abortions while Obamacare does not.
Mitt’s new plan has become a jumbled mess of talking points:
My plan is to harness the power of markets to drive positive change in health insurance and health care. And we can do so with state flexibility (unlike ObamaCare’s top-down federal approach), no new taxes (as opposed to hundreds of billions of dollars of new taxes under ObamaCare), and better consumer choice (as opposed to bureaucratic, government choice under ObamaCare). This change of direction offers our best hope of preserving both innovation and value.
If someone could please explain what “bureaucratic, government choice” means beyond the obvious attempt to pander to the more dull knives in the drawer, I would be much obliged. Mitt Romney is both running away from and chasing himself at the same time. One of the primary reasons he instituted health care reform in Massachusetts is to make health care more accessible to those who don’t have coverage. Now he advocates policy (Medicaid block grants) that would result in 31-44 million additional uninsured Americans:
The effect on enrollment in state Medicaid programs could vary widely. By 2021, between 31 million and 44 million fewer people nationally would have Medicaid coverage under the House Budget Plan relative to expected enrollment under current law, the analysis finds, examining three possible scenarios using different assumptions about how states might respond to lower federal funding. Most of those people, given their low incomes and few options for other coverage, would end up uninsured.
By attempting to thread this ideological needle Mitt reminds people of why they didn’t vote for him in the 2008 primaries – he does not seem genuine.
Simply, Republicans and Mitt Romney, own your accomplishments and fight where you stand. Stop running east.