Will Gingrich Turn Out To Be the Anti-Romney, Romney-Lite, or Hyper-Romney?
As Herman Cain’s popularity declines in the wake of multiple sexual harassment allegations, GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney finally finds himself . . . now in a tie with Newt Gingrich. After a disastrous campaign kickoff, Gingrich recently experienced a surge in the polls, triggered by Cain’s deterioration and a string of solid debate performances. His former spokesperson, Rick Tyler, predicted this outcome back when many political commentators were pronouncing Gingrich dead on arrival.
“Surely they had killed him off . . . But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.”
|Current Republican Presidential|
hopeful and former individual
mandate advocate Newt Gingrich
It is yet another indication that the conservative core simply cannot bring itself to embrace Romney. Their distrust centers on Romney’s moderate-to-liberal past and nothing is more anathema to them than the fact that Obama based his federal healthcare reform law, so despised by them, upon Romeny’s own program in Massachusetts, with its dreaded individual mandate. They fear Obama will be able to campaign effectively against Romney in the general election on this basis alone.
Romney has been walking a tightrope, defending his record to the right delicately balanced against assurances to the right that he opposes the individual mandate. There were things he would do differently in Massachusetts, given the benefit of hindsight, he concedes. Moreover, even things that worked for his state will not necessarily translate to the federal level.
Neither potential GOP voters nor his Republican challengers are buying it. During a recent appearance on FOX News, Michele Bachman fumed, “We have candidates that are compromised on the individual health care mandate, which is Obamacare.” She damned Romney not only for implementing it in Massachusetts but insisted, “It was [his] idea.” Romney received a challenge along the same line during a GOP debate at the Western Republican Leadership Conference.
It is unsurprising that Romney’s denials resound so weakly. His connection to and endorsement of individual mandates goes back a long way.
Romney first endorsed the individual mandate on NBC’s Meet the Press in 1993, long before it was a controversial topic. “I am for people, individuals – exactly like automobile insurance – individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance.”
A decade later, he collaborated with then Senator and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to promote a more centrist solution to healthcare reform than her doomed attempt at a single-payer system. A July 2005 article in Hotline about one of their joint appearances described Romney as endorsing not just state-based mandates but “some federal mandates” as well. A New York Sun article about the same event reported, “Both politicians appeared to endorse proposals to require all individuals to have some form of health coverage.”
Romney’s writings also betray his true feelings. In 2005, he wrote, “You have a responsibility to buy insurance . . . We need some significant changes to ensure that every American is insured, but we should make it clear that a 21st Century Intelligent System requires everyone to participate in the insurance system.”
In a June 2007 op-ed piece for the Des Moines Register, Romney wrote, “Personal responsibility extends to the purchase of health insurance. Citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it.”
Again, in 2008, he wrote, “We should insist that everyone above a certain level buy coverage (or, if they are opposed to insurance, post a bond).”
Despite his efforts to distance himself from past rhetoric, Romney continues to contradict himself occasionally regarding individual mandates. As recently as May 2011, he told Meet the Press, “I’ve said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond or in some way you indicate you’re going to be held accountable.” When asked by the show’s host if this constituted a mandate, Romney characterized it as “a variation on it.”
Little wonder then that the far right continues to recoil from Romney. It is also unsurprising they would turn back for a hard second look at Gingrich. No straight shooter like Newt is going to be unclear about his opposition to Obamacare . . .
. . . except their hard second look is going to discover that every quote and cited writing above came not from Mitt Romney but from Newt Gingrich. And if such sentiments and history make Romney unattractive to the Republican base, it seems unlikely that Gingrich will get a pass for them either.
This scrutiny has already started. Dana Millbank of the Washington Post judges Gingrich as a potential anti-Romney and finds him wanting. “His problem . . . is that he is entirely too moderate . . . The ideas that made him a conservative revolutionary in 1994 make him squishy in 2012.”
Gene Healy of the Cato Institute is even more caustic. In an op-ed piece for the Washington Examiner, Healy groans, “Has it really come to this? Newt Gingrich as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney? . . . Yet a look at his record reveals that Newt is hardly the ‘anti-Mitt’ – he's Mitt Romney with more baggage and bolder hand gestures.”
In fairness, Gingrich vigorously contends he has changed his mind about the individual mandate. Of course, Romney does too and this hasn’t gotten him very far to date. It is reasonable to expect Obama’s handlers to hammer Gingrich hard about this, if given a chance in the general election. For that matter, none other than Romney will probably run the issue into the ground during the primaries.
Gingrich’s attacker on this subject during the debate was Romney. “Actually, Newt, we got the idea of an individual mandate from you,” he told Gingrich.
“That’s not true. You got it from the Heritage Foundation,” replied a flustered Gingrich.
“And you never supported them?” Romney countered.
“I agreed with them,” Gingrich conceded.
“Oh, okay,” Romney coolly corrected. “That’s what I’m saying. We got the idea from you and the Heritage Foundation.”
“Okay. A little broader,” said Gingrich, mollified although undoubtedly still unhappy with the exchange.
Ross Douthat of the New York Times believes this issue is unlikely to sour the conservative base on Gingrich because his appeal lies elsewhere. “[Gingrich] is less a traditional conservative than he is a kind of right-wing futurist . . . But whereas most right-wing futurists tend to be libertarians who take a somewhat jaundiced view of partisan politics, for Gingrich civilization itself hangs in the balance in every election cycle. The glittering future he descries can only be won through a confrontation with the enemies of progress – namely, liberal Democrats.”
Somewhat in line with this analysis, Gingrich argues, plausibly, that his past attraction to the individual mandate was because it seemed a saner alternative than the even more draconian (i.e. “socialist”) measures advocated by Hillary Clinton in the 1990s.
However, conservative thinker Peter Sunderman addresses why this could be a weakness for Gingrich too. “Republican party leaders have had a hard time addressing health policy issues over the last few years," he writes in the Libertarian journal Reason. Rather than make a prolonged case for health policy that does not involve endless expansion of entitlements and insurance subsidies, the GOP has instead focused primarily on reacting to Democratic proposals.”
If Gingrich is poised to become the next conservative darling of this Presidential election cycle, then the question remains as to exactly what kind of a darling he really is. Is he the anti-Romney, Romney-lite, or hyper-Romney? Gingrich needs to get a credible answer to this question soon. Otherwise, scrutiny by the Republican core may find that the man who emerged out of the smoke of disaster did so from smoke that he was blowing.