Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Team Dwight Has No Players

I remember Josh Marshall asking last week whether health care reform was the end of Mitt Romney's hopes for the 2012 Republican nomination:
If the Republicans want to make Obama's signature piece of legislation a centerpiece of their 2012 campaign (and it's hard to imagine they won't since what else will they run on?), they can't very well run a candidate who supported and passed close to an identical bill. It's a no-brainer.
Obama has passed Romneycare (that's what Brad DeLong is calling it) and Republicans think it's all death panels. So Mitt is denying the similarities and blaming Democrats for his own unwillingness to bring Republican support for the proposal -- "what I see in Obamacare is a very different piece of legislation — and one that followed a very different track. In our case, our bill was carried out in a bipartisan basis." As Matt says, it would've been a bipartisan bill if Mitt Romney had stuck to his previous support for a similar policy, come out loudly in favor and pressured the Maine Senators and others to vote for it.

There's a decent long-term plan here too. Mitt could've been the sensible moderate Eisenhower Republican in a Tea Party / death panel era and supported the bill. Of course, he couldn't change the world enough to make that identity a winner in 2012. But who knows what the world will look like in 2016? Maybe after repeated crushing defeat, the Republican Party reshapes itself and the moderates finally win out. And maybe Obama's successor ends up being a far inferior politician, allowing Romney to win. Even if the process took until 2020 when he'll be 73, less handsome men have won Republican primaries at that age. And if the history of universal social programs in America is any guide, there would by then be a fairly robust pro-Romneycare faction of the GOP waiting for him.

Of course, Mitt isn't the guy to make a long-term plan like that, because he's always changing his views to whatever will win him the next election. The election after the next election? He doesn't think that far ahead. Or maybe he does think that far ahead, and he thinks he can just change back. For all I know, that could be the right play. He's switched his views so much in the past that he's given up on the consistency vote, if such a vote exists at all.

So that's Mitt's thing. But if he won't do it, won't somebody stake out moderate Republican territory? And I'm not just asking this out of some wish for the Republicans to return to rationality, though I do wish for that -- it makes America and the world a lot safer. It seems like there's a long-term opportunity for whoever becomes captain of Team Dwight and waits for the other players to fill in around him. I know that people have to win their primaries and stuff, but somebody out there has to be positioned to go for it. As it stands, the opportunity is greater than the number of Republicans pursuing it. Lots of things are greater than zero.
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