Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Does the GOP nominating Romney "give up" health care issue for Conservatives?

We've all heard the narrative-- repeated insistently by Rick Santorum in the primary battle he is currently waging for the presidential nomination in the Republican party-- that if the GOP nominates Mitt Romney to face Obama in the Nov. 6, 2012 general election the issue of Obamacare will be “taken off the table,” or at least opposition to the unpopular “individual mandate” much debated in the Supreme Court this week will be less effective. Indeed, it is a position that this party at one time gave credence to. But after listening to the last few days of Supreme Court arguments, one has to ask, is the premise underlying this narrative really true?  Will the issue of health care truly be “lost” and conservatives somehow be weakened in their attack on the Obama Administration's signature domestic policy achievement that was forced through in the dead of night by a lame duck Congress with much manipulation and cajoling, (as noted by some of the justices this week), if Romney is the Nominee? While I have already dealt with the differences between Obamacare and Romneycare in my rebuttal to Phil. A. Klein's critique of Ann Coulter's editorial “Three Cheers for Romneycare,” (see here), and will attempt to not waste time repeating all those points here, further reflection on the critical issue at hand has convinced me that the answer to this question is clearly “no.” 

I share my thoughts not to open yet another fissure in the conservative movement of the many that have become evident in the contentious primary process we have witnessed, but rather to bring a sense of perspective (and closure?) that seems sorely lacking in the heat of partisan battles.I also realize that there are honest, differing perspectives on this among conservatives. But with the intention to help conservatives avoid making a decision that could lead to even more catastrophic results, (as will hereinafter be made clear) I must share my heart on this subject. So what exactly is it, especially in light of my personal fondness for Rick Santorum's campaign previously, that has brought me to this most recent conclusion?

For starters, the narrative pushed by the Santorum campaign, and conservative supporters generally, is based on a faulty assumption: Namely, that the “Obamacare” issue will be as salient in Nov. (and our nation's future), as it is now. For several reasons we believe it will not be so.

First, in light of the open skepticism of the Supreme Court regarding the federal mandate contained in Obamacare-- and the lukewarm support of even some of the more liberal justices on the High Court-- we firmly believe that the “Patient protection and Affordable Care Act” (as it's formally named) will, in fact, be struck down, in whole or in part, by the Court (and resoundingly so).

We believe this will have at least two effects: 1) It will invigorate left of center voters to go to the polls who are not likely to be favorably disposed to Rick Santorum's brand of social conservatism, and 2) It will depress voter turnout of those conservatives who might most naturally tend to favor the candidate who has most closely tied his fortunes to opposition to mandates generally, Rick Santorum.

But why is this so? Simply for this reason: After all the brohouha over mandates that has embroiled the Republican primaries, and raised conservative concerns, (rightly so), over the effect on our Republic and Constitution of the federal mandate contained in Obamacare, any decision striking it down by the Supreme Court-- which the justices have widely indicated will come by summer-- will accordingly reduce the urgency of the issue in the Nov. general election. As a result, though not by any means all, some conservatives for whom this is THE burning, penultimate issue in the elections might stay home, (thus hurting Santorum's chances if he is the Republican nominee). Of course, as any astute student of politics knows, turnout is key in a close election, (which make no mistake, this election will be!) 

On the other hand, Mitt Romney is far more likely to pull not just Republican voters, but independents and undecideds, (who in the Illinois primary recently, an election which demographically more closely approximates the general electorate, broke in large margins for Romney). Indeed, there are a lot of different reasons general election voters might vote for Romney, none of which have to do with Obamacare, (which as we've said, will already be “done and decided” come Nov. 6).

Secondly, as the price of gas rises amidst continued fears of global unrest and the Iranian situation, we believe “bread and butter” issues like jobs and the economy will dominate voters concerns in Nov.

Now don't get us wrong. We believe so called “social issues” are critically important as a part of the GOP's pro-family platform. However, we believe economic and other concerns will, as polls now show, continue to dominate the minds of the broader electorate that will be voting in the general election in November. For reasons as have been previously expressed by us as well as others, we believe this not only favors the nomination of a proven business “outsider” such as Mitt Romney, but it could critically also “insulate” and protect Romney's ability to press the issue of health care notwithstanding his passage of what many consider the “blueprint” for Obamacare, his state-passed “Romneycare” while governor of Mass.

The controversy over this issue, as well as the differences between Romneycare and Obamacare, have already been well documented, and for our purposes here will not need to be repeated, (suffice to say that there is a huge difference between a complete federal takeover of health care and more localized solutions arising from the “laboratory of the states” to deal with the problems associated with rising health care costs that will undoubtedly be highlighted in the Supreme Court's imminent decision).

But saliently, and as even acknowledged by “Romneycare's” harshest critics, the States undoubtedly have the power under the Tenth Amendment-- or at least aren't proscribed by the federal constitution-- to impose all sorts of “mandates,” (including ones relating to health care) at the State level by virtue of a State's inherent “police powers” in the general interest of public health and safety, (and for those libertarians who disagree with this fundamental concept we ask if you also disagree that the State can regulate alcohol sales or require you to buy car insurance? Of course, and as an aside, the Santorum campaign's repeated pounding of an “anti-all-mandates” drum belies an inherent contradiction in believing such matters as contraception can be regulated by the State while failing to explain why matters of health care cannot, but I digress).

Again, lest any misunderstand, we are not saying that we, as an organization, favor even the less intrusive-- and constitutional, at least from a federalism standpoint-- state mandate to purchase health insurance found in Romneycare, (indeed, to focus on this is to miss the point of our focus on politics begun in our prior post).

Rather, and more salient to our discussion here, we simply believe that in the hearts and minds of general election voters, Romney's previous position on record as doing something about healthcare will help, rather than hurt him, in ways that are not true with Rick Santorum.

Indeed, we believe Romney's previous attempts at insurance/health reform at the state level in Mass. will actually insulate him from one of the President's chief attacks leading up to the Nov. elections, specifically the one that goes like this: When it comes to the important issue of health care “reform” Republicans are “do nothings” who can only obstruct and have no ideas of their own to help people with the rising cost of health insurance, (which regardless of the Supreme Court's decision will continue to be an issue due to advanced technology and demographic trends pushing up the price of health care services).

This, to us, will likely be a far more salient issue (and likely line of attack of the Democrats), in November, especially when it will be coming, as now widely expected, after the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare.

Not so with Rick Santorum, who will easily be painted by the White House as an “extreme obstructionist” that can only feed the narrative and effectiveness of Obama's attack on Republicans as the party of “do nothings” when it comes to health care, (to say nothing of Santorum's stance on social issues, which personally we rather like but when combined with the expected liberal backlash on the striking down of Obamacare will result in an extremely unified and motivated Democrat party at a time when due to lingering bitterness over extended primary battles Republicans may be less so).

Indeed, in such a “post Obamacare” political environment we think it will rather be Romney, not Santorum, whose political position is most strengthened by this turn of events.

As alluded to above, not only would it completely insulate Romney from the repeated attacks of President Obama that Republicans are happy “doing nothing” on the important issue of health care, but coming on the heels of the expected reversal of the unpopular federal law Romney will be able to exhibit leadership and an understanding of federalism by saying convincingly, “This is why such matters need to be made at the State and not federal level like I did in Mass.” (Indeed, re: the latter we would not be at all surprised if part of the Supreme Court's decision highlights this fundamental federalism of our constitution vis a vis a focus on the differences in the lawfulness of State vs. Federal mandates inherent in the Tenth Amendment, further buttressing Romney as opposed to Santorum who has publicly thrown in fully against any and all mandates).

Remember, elections can be won or lost on the slightest of impressions, and the one emerging from this turn of events clearly would buttress one surrounding Romney's strengths stemming from his business and Olympics experience, that of executive leadership.

Moreover, as pointed out in our rebuttal of Mr. Klein's anti-Coulter piece, in light of the fact that Romney's state “mandate” setting up market-based exchanges where insurance companies competed for the business of individual consumers stopped the Democrats from imposing an even more instrusive “single payer” government run insurance system in Massacheussets, it also adds an element of wisdom and executive effectiveness in working with both parties to Romney that is sorely lacking in Santorum's candidacy. (Indeed, it strenghthens the Romney narrative that he is a “get it done” outsider from the world of business, quite unlike the “lifelong politician” model which voters have increasingly soured on).

Such considerations and ability to counter the big government ideas of obvious statists become even more important when one considers that Democrats, if able to wrest control of the House of Representatives from Republicans on the enthusiasm of their base post Obamacare's unconstitutional demise, are likely to impose in its place an even more intrusive “single payer” system if Obama is reelected by simply expanding medicaid to all, (a government program that has already been deemed constitutional and would be immune to the sort of legal challenges currently being made against Obamacare). Such an outcome would be like going from the frying pan into the fire for conservatives, and have a far more devastating impact upon individual liberty and the free market than Obamacare, (which, for all its flaws, at least preserves the vestiges of a free market system).

It also bears considering that the above “doomsday” scenario for conservatives of the Democrats regaining control of the House from Republicans-- who currently hold a slim majority-- a prospect which polls show is significantly more likely if a polarizing candidate with less “coattails” like Santorum is the Republican nominee in the general election. Indeed, polls consistently show that Romney is more acceptable to a wide swath of voters “in the middle,” (you know, the ones who actually decide national elections?) 

Even more important is the U.S. Senate, where any negative downticket conseqences to our nominee could cost us chances to regain control over the critical task of judicial oversight and confirmation of judges to the federal judiciary, (including the Supreme Court itself, where matters such as the future of the fateful and anachronistic Roe v. Wade decision and Gay marriage enshrined as a “right” in the federal constitution will be decided). 

Assuming the worst case scenario of both a Presidential and Senate setback for conservatives, that would leave President Obama and his leftist supporters the chance to fill as many as three Supreme Court vacancies with those who share his progressive vision of law and the Constitution and the potential to set back any conservative gains that we make at both the federal and state legislative level, (witness the California Supreme court's overturning the clear will of the voters to support marriage as one man and one woman which, even if review of said decision was granted by the U.S. Supreme Court, is doubtful we would have the votes to prevail); in short, even on social issues, (the one area where Santorum potentially trumps Romney's “conservative cred”), it could open a pandora's box of mischief and immorality that would make Santorum himself blush, (which admittedly, might not be too hard if it is true he almost "threw up" on hearing a speech by JFK on the 'separation' of church and state, a matter not at issue here). In this regard it is irrelevant that we may personally like Santorum's strongly “conservative” stand on social policy issues, (as well as his emphasis on manufacturing); the fact remains that his defeat as a general election candidate would potentially do far more damage to the conservative position on such issues than he could possibly further if elected as President.

Moreover, and in terms of basic electability, it is indisputable that among almost all demographic groups, (including the critical ones of women and independents as a whole), Romney retains a significant advantage; In short, if Santorum wins the GOP nomination for President it could have significant “downticket” consequences which leads to Democratic control of the Congress. And if that happens, if will make any conservative victory on Obamacare in the Supreme Court in a few months a distant and insignificant battle in a much larger war we can not risk losing.

I began this article with the primary purpose of debunking the oft-repeated idea that Mitt Romney's passing of “Romneycare” as governor in Mass makes him a less effective or desirable candidate for President in the general election to oppose President Obama compared to Rick Santorum, and have covered a lot of ground, (much more so than I intended when I began). 

Hopefully some of the points I have raised will begin a much bigger conversation amongst conservatives leading up to this critical national election, or we may be stuck with suffering the collateral consequences for a much larger time to come, and on a much larger scale, than we can now envision. Jp

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