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Romney’s Multiple Positions on Obamacare Shows Difficulty for Him to “Move to the Middle”

Most of what you want to know about the impact of the two back-to-back political conventions on the 2012 election can be seen in Mitt Romney’s flailing response yesterday on Meet the Press to a question about health care.

Mitt Romney said Sunday that he would retain elements of President Obama’s health care overhaul, blamed Republicans as much as Democrats for the “mistake” of agreeing to automatic cuts in military spending to avoid a fiscal crisis and acknowledged that Mr. Obama’s national security strategy has made America in “some ways safer.” […]

When the show’s host, David Gregory, asked Mr. Romney what elements of Mr. Obama’s health care program he would maintain, Mr. Romney said he would still require that insurance companies cover those with pre-existing conditions, just as the president’s law has.

“I’m not getting rid of all of health care reform,” Mr. Romney said, while emphasizing that he planned to replace the president’s plan with his own. “There are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I’m going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage.”

It’s impossible for Romney to actually engage in what is a fairly normal procedure of Presidential candidates moving to the middle for the general election, however. So within hours, his campaign reached out to National Review and insisted “there had been no change in Romney’s position.” The campaign pointed to remarks Romney made in June about the pre-existing condition issue, and elided a separate statement Romney made on MTP about allowing 26 year-olds to stay on their parent’s policies by saying that he would not prohibit that but also not mandate it.

Romney’s campaign then had to make a separate clarification, linking pre-existing condition exclusions to “continuous coverage.” That’s pretty much where we are right now in the employer market. And it does no good for the uninsured.

This isn’t that terrible a gaffe, as Romney gaffes go. It just shows the impossibility of the usual shading of policies in an era of rigid partisanship on the right. The left lets its candidates get away with this as a matter of course, perhaps too much. The right gives no quarter. And so you have Romney giving different statements to different media outlets on the same day. That famous message discipline has broken down.

I’d be more concerned about the statement that did hew to modern conservative beliefs, that Romney didn’t think “easing monetary policy is going to make a significant difference in the job market right now.” This just denies the potential of one of the major mechanisms to boost the economy. And it’s ahistorical.

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David Dayen

David Dayen