National Review Turns On Mitt Romney

I had held out some notion that conservatives elites might be willing to forgive Mitt Romney’s shameful record of helping the population of Massachusetts get health insurance. After all, many conservatives backed Romney in 2008 even when they knew his record. But yesterday’s health care speech seems to have strangled that in the crib, as today’s NR editorial makes clear:

[W]hen conservatives argue that Obamacare is a threat to the economy, to the quality of health care, and to the proper balance between government and citizenry, we do not mean that it should be implemented at the state level. We mean that it should not be implemented at all. And Romney’s health-care federalism is wobbly. The federal government picked up a fifth of the cost of his health-care plan. His justification for the individual mandate also lends itself naturally toward federal imposition of a mandate. He says that the state had to make insurance compulsory to prevent cost shifting, because federal law requires hospitals to treat all comers, insured or not. But if federal law is the source of a national problem, it makes no sense to advocate a state-by-state solution.

What’s strange about this editorial is that it involves NR pretending that somehow it’s Romney who’s changed since they endorsed him four years ago rather than conceding that they’ve simply changed their standards of what counts as conservative health policy. Read the 2007 Romney endorsement editorial:

Our guiding principle has always been to select the most conservative viable candidate. In our judgment, that candidate is Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Unlike some other candidates in the race, Romney is a full-spectrum conservative: a supporter of free-market economics and limited government, moral causes such as the right to life and the preservation of marriage, and a foreign policy based on the national interest. […]

Like any Republican, he would have an uphill climb next fall. But he would be able to offer a persuasive outsider’s critique of Washington. His conservative accomplishments as governor showed that he can work with, and resist, a Demo­crat­ic legislature. He knows that not every feature of the health-care plan he enacted in Massachusetts should be replicated nationally, but he can also speak with more authority than any of the other Republican candidates about this pressing issue. He would also have credibility on the economy, given his success as a businessman and a manager of the Olympics.

We’ve gone quite suddenly from the fact that Romney can speak with more authority than any other Republican about the pressing issue of health insurance to one in which Romney’s health care record is a dangerous flirtation with policies that threaten the economy and the basic framework of American liberty. If the issue is that NR’s writers have actually changed their mind then they should give some reasons and not just act like Romney’s a scoundrel. Obviously it’s possible to construct workable health care policies that don’t have these features (ask Canada, or the UK, or Singapore, or…) but when National Review put two of its best policy writers to the task of framing a constructive alternative to the Affordable Care Act what they came up with were some decent ideas that can’t be made to work without adding a Romney/Obama-style mandate or some other basically isomorphic policy aimed at getting everyone into the risk-pooling system.