Mitt Romney’s press secretary Andrea Saul turned heads this week by glowingly citing the former governor’s Massachusetts health care reforms, a taboo topic during the Republican primaries. But the Romney campaign has gone silent amid conservative outcry, leaving it unclear whether touting the law was part of a new strategy or an accidental aside.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Saul correctly noted in TV interviews that a man featured in a Democratic attack ad who lost his insurance would have been able to obtain coverage under Romney’s health care law had he lived in Massachusetts.
Right-wing pundits recoiled in horror, frightened that Saul’s remarks could be a sign the candidate might start promoting the law despite the party’s continued push to repeal Obama’s similar law, the Affordable Care Act.
“What conservatives are doing re Andrea Saul’s comment is the same as how you housebreak your dog,” RedState editor Dan McLaughlin tweeted. “Romney needs to know not to go there.”
Many interpreted Saul’s remarks as a mistake. Ann Coulter demanded that she be fired.
But it’s still not clear whether Saul was off message. For one thing, she said almost the same thing twice within 24 hours in separate interviews, suggesting it was more than just an offhand comment. For another, Romney mentioned his health care law in a speech Wednesday too, claiming that his work in Massachusetts would help him fix health care in Washington.
The Romney campaign itself might not be entirely sure whether it’s going to push a renewed appreciation for universal health care and mandates, either. As of Thursday afternoon, Romney aides and surrogates had offered no explanation to soothe conservative tempers, nor had they indicated that the move was intended to court independents and moderates.
Romney officials did not respond to requests for comment from TPM. Meanwhile, the Rush Limbaughs of the world are calling for blood.
For the cautious Romney, whatever path he decides could invite significant fallout. Either Romney keeps talking up his Massachusetts reforms, putting him at odds with his base and inviting awkward questions about why he won’t support similar reforms for all Americans; or he backs down and looks like he’s retreating in the face of conservative bullying — and essentially admits he can’t run on his signature achievement in government.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.