Romney has to defend in principle the individual mandate that has become central to the constitutional challenge against Obamacare, hoping that the federalism argument can make people forget the individual mandate’s Republican pedigree and the fact that Romneycare was inspired in part by people who had advocated the individual mandate at the federal level. How effective were John Kerry and John Edwards at arguing against the Iraq war they voted for during the 2004 campaign? To many people, the distinctions will sound like technicalities. ~Jim Antle
I don’t want to give Romney too much help here, but there is a significant difference between Romney on health care and Kerry/Edwards on the Iraq war. Kerry and Edwards had zero credibility to criticize Bush on Iraq for a few reasons. First, they voted for the authorizing resolution, and in 2004 they both still supported the war. Kerry was reduced to quibbling about the management of the war, and arguing that he would manage the war better than Bush. Of course, an attack on Bush’s competence in managing the war was absolutely warranted, but the public didn’t fully appreciate this at the time, and it reduced the differences between the parties on Iraq as much as they possibly could have been. Romney never had to cast a vote on the federal health care legislation, but it seems likely that he would have voted with his party against the bill if he had been in a position to do so. Romney isn’t quibbling over how to implement the health care legislation. He is openly advocating for its repeal.
Romney’s position on federal health care legislation is more like Howard Dean’s 2003-04 Iraq war position, but unlike Dean he is not competing against even more “centrist” supporters of the incumbent’s major policy initiative. Where Dean’s opposition to the Iraq war was reckoned as a general election liability in 2003-04, no one in the GOP is saying that Romney’s general election chances would be undermined because he is calling for ACA repeal. On the contrary, Republicans assume that the pro-repeal position is a winner, and they are worried that Romney is not the best messenger for what they think is a winning issue. In fact, Romney on health care is even more like Obama in 2007-08 on Iraq than he is like Dean.
In any case, Kerry was far more directly implicated in supporting the Iraq war, he didn’t act as an opponent of the war during the campaign, and he won the nomination anyway, and he very nearly won the general election. Romney is at most implicated in supporting some of the same policy mechanisms that the federal health care legislation also uses, but he opposes the specific legislation in question. This is comparable to saying that he is not against all wars, but he is against rash and dumb wars. The good news for opponents of the health care legislation is that Romney is as opposed to it as Obama was to the Iraq war, and the bad news is that this likewise tells you nothing about his more general view of health care policy. Pro-repeal Republicans shouldn’t trust Romney on health care and domestic policy apart from his support for repeal, just as antiwar Democrats generally shouldn’t have trusted Obama on foreign policy apart from his opposition to the Iraq war, but Romney will probably be able to use his support for repeal to deflect all other health care-related attacks.