Mitt Romney’s campaign is giving conservatives quite a scare this week by touting Romney’s Massachusetts health care overhaul — a subject Romney has gone to great lengths to avoid.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul brought up the law in response to a Priorities USA ad in which a steelworker, who lost his job after Bain Capital closed the GST Steel mill where he worked, connects his unemployment — and resulting lack of health insurance — to the death of his wife.
Team Romney’s response: He should have lived in Massachusetts.
On two Fox News appearances Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, Saul countered that if the steelworker, Joe Soptic, and his wife had lived in Massachusetts, they would have kept their insurance under Romney’s health care reform law.
“To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Gov. Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” Saul said Tuesday.
The campaign has shied from reminding voters of Romney’s landmark achievement as governor because it so closely resembles “Obamacare” — and was in fact a model for the national law. Romney has said repeatedly that he does not wish to force his plan onto other states. Romney has justified the law to conservatives by insisting that it worked for his state, but he wouldn’t ask other states to follow his lead.
Still, Saul contends that Romney’s plan — which he does not intend to make federal law — would have protected Soptic’s wife. Her comments raise the question of whether Romney is opposing a law that he actually believes saves lives.
Saul made the same argument again Wednesday.
“Obviously it is unfortunate when anyone loses their job,” Saul said Wednesday morning on Fox News. “To that point, you know, if people had been in Massachusetts under Gov. Romney’s health care plan they would’ve had health care. There a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President Obama’s economy, and that is why Gov. Romney is running: to get people back to work.”
Conservatives quickly dubbed Saul’s rebuttal a serious misstep by the campaign.
RedState’s Erick Erickson tweeted it could cost Romney the election:
OMG.This might just be the moment Mitt Romney lost the election.Wow. politico.com/news/stories/0…— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) August 8, 2012
Another RedState editor, Dan McLaughlin, wrote that the Romney campaign needed the criticism in order to learn the lesson of what not to do.
What conservatives are doing re Andrea Saul’s comment is the same as how you housebreak your dog. Romney needs to know not to go there.— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) August 8, 2012
Conservative blogger Phil Klein, who’s been critical of Romney’s health care law, also thinks the comments were a grave mistake.
Not sure if the Romney camp realizes what a huge opening they’ve just created for Ds on Obamacare politi.co/OOBJZ6— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) August 8, 2012
Romney himself came closer than he has in months to mentioning his own plan Wednesday morning. On the trail in Iowa, Romney argued that his experience made him better-equipped to improve health care in America. Romney promised to repeal “Obamacare,” and added: “We’ve got to do reforms in health care and I have some experience doing that, as you know. And I know how to make a better setting than the one we have in health care.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.