Romney Pivots, Embraces Romneycare Again

Have Republicans done better job selling health care overhaul than Obama?

Aug. 9, 2012 -- Mitt Romney secured the GOP presidential nomination in spite of the health care law he passed in Massachusetts. That legislation, which mandated people buy insurance, was the basis for the federal law that the candidate has pledged to move toward repealing on his first day as president.

But now, to the chagrin of some conservatives, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul has suggested twice in two days that if a steelworker laid off by a company managed by Bain Capital had lived in Massachusetts, his wife, who died without insurance, would have been covered.

Saul was responding a pro-Obama super PAC's claim that Romney's action in the private sector cost a man his job and that policies supported by the Republican's campaign would expose someone in a similar position to comparable danger, when she stepped into the tar pit.

"To that point," Saul told Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, when quizzed about the ad, "if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney's health care plan, they would have had health care."

Cue a collective anxiety attack among the conservatives Romney had worked so hard to court to during the primaries.

"OMG. This might just be the moment Mitt Romney lost the election. Wow," editor-in-chief Erick Erickson tweeted after he read about Saul's interview.

What follows in his feed is a triumph of the conservative will, a spasm of denunciations that begins with the spokeswoman, then quickly ascends the ladder to the candidate himself.

But as much as the news cycle has spun on the idea that Saul somehow slipped and lost the narrative thread, recent statements (and some from a bit further back) from Romney on health care policy and overhaul indicate that the former Massachusetts governor might be trying to take some air out the issue.

When Romney spoke Wednesday about health care in Des Moines, Iowa, one could be forgiven for thinking he sounded like a candidate who has grown increasingly reluctant to dismiss his most significant and successful public policy achievement.

"At the top of my list of programs we don't need is one that costs $100 billion a year I'm going to get rid of and that's Obamacare," he said to cheers at a rally.

But then, a telling pivot: "By the way, that doesn't mean that health care is perfect. We've got to do reforms in health care and I have some experience doing that, as you know. And I know how to make a better setting than the one we have in health care."

Obama's health care plan, which was crafted in the Romney plan's image, puts similar safety nets in place.

Rush Limbaugh -- as he does -- weighed in today, declaring that "Republicans and conservatives are not unified and we cons [conservatives] don't think the Republican establishment know what they're up against."

"The question I have is, after Andrea Saul's response, is they are just accepting the premise here?" Limbaugh asked, referencing the Romney's campaign's not doing as much as might be expected to pull back from her comments.

Dial it back a bit further, though, to Romney's March appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, and the context begins to take shape.

The candidate told Leno, who was teasing him about Obama's health care plan, that "people who have been continuously insured, let's say someone's had a job for a while but insured, then they get real sick and they happen to lose a job, or change jobs, they find, 'Gosh, I've got a pre-existing condition, I can't get insured. I'd say, no, no no. As long as you've been continuously insured, you ought to be able to get insurance going forward."

And according to a wide range of surveys, the American people would tend to agree. When the Obama law is unwrapped and presented piecemeal, pollsters have routinely found the angel's in the details.

The law, as a whole, might split the country, but when translated into relatable terms (even if they are a bit dubious, as in the Priorities USA spot) like it was for Saul, it becomes more difficult to attack.

The extension of benefits for workers who've been laid off or seen their companies go under was a key provision in the legislation Massachusetts enacted in 2006.

For now, if Romney can convince the 47 percent of the country that supports the president's health care law that he has no intention of kicking out its most popular provisions, and that he has "some experience" in dealing successfully with similar issues, Saul's "gaffe" could be re-interpreted as a shrewd political coup.