A little more than 24 hours have passed since Mitt Romney took the base-alienating step of touting the health care law he signed while governor of Massachusetts in an interview with NBC. Unlike the last time his campaign heralded his signature achievement, however, the conservative grumbling was relatively muted.
Why? Because, Republicans say, things are so bad for Romney that they’ll even let him talk up his health care law.
Romney raised the law unprompted during a Wednesday interview with NBC, saying the Massachusetts law — which is very much like the national health care reform law he hopes to eliminate — is evidence that he has a heart.
“[D]on’t forget — I got everybody in my state insured,” Romney said. “One hundred percent of the kids in our state had health insurance. I don’t think there’s anything that shows more empathy and care about the people of this country than that kind of record.”
A similar statement from a Romney staffer in August led to a total freakout on the right. “This might just be the moment Mitt Romney lost the election,” RedState’s Erick Erickson said at the time. But this week, when the actual candidate was doing it? Not so big a deal.
“Conservatives have bigger fish to fry than worry about doctrine right now,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican consultant based in Florida.
There were some detractors, of course.
“Facepalm,” read the headline on Twitchy, a conservative Twitter aggregation site.
“The obvious problem, of course, is that if there isn’t ‘anything that shows more empathy and care about the people of this country than that kind of record,’ then Obama wins the empathy argument … because his policies involve helping more people get health insurance,” wrote the National Review’s Katrina Trinko.
This reaction, though biting and indicative of just why conservatives were so worried about Romney’s health care record before he won the nomination, was nothing like what Team Romney faced in August. Why? Observers say it’s because the current state of polling makes conservatives ready to give Romney a pass.
“A sizable portion of the voters that Romney needs to win over in the swing states are okay with ObamaCare,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP consultant. “And the right recognizes that Romney is running behind in the polls, and will permit him — within reason — to use any tool necessary to salvage this election.”
Not all Republicans are so sure of this strategy. On the ideologically rigid tea party wing of things, some reject the idea that Romney should be going for the empathy vote at all.
“The thing Romney needs to do to beat Obama is show up in this debate and not have another empathy comment. Those comments are really hurting him far more than any 47% comments,” said Ryan Rhodes a tea party activist from Iowa. “The government’s not here for empathy, it’s here for the law. If we use empathy for everything we want to do, that’s how countries go bankrupt and bad policy is created.”
Benjy Sarlin contributed reporting.