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Kevin Frisch: Run, Mitt, Run

Kevin Frisch

Mitt Romney has a problem with Obamacare. It looks a lot like Romneycare.

The prospective Republican presidential candidate’s vulnerability on the issue was evident this week, when he was interrupted during a tour for his new book by a woman upset with the Massachusetts health care law Romney signed as governor in 2006. That law has some of the same core features as the federal law President Barack Obama, a Democrat, signed on Tuesday.

And that’s creating an uncomfortable straddle for Romney as his party makes attacking the new health care law its main message this midterm year.

The Associated Press, March 26

I don't know whether Mitt Romney knows it or not — I suspect he doesn't — but he is uniquely poised to distance himself from the rest of the field seeking the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. I mean really distance himself.

While other GOP candidates rant about a “government takeover of health care” being “forced down our throats” by “lying baby killers,” Romney can take another tack: That of the forward-looking pragmatist.

While his challengers run on a health-care platform of “Repeal and Replace,” Romney can adopt a mantra of “Engage and Improve.” While the rest of the pack courts the tea partiers and endorses their party's legislative obstructionism, Romney can appeal to the much larger percentage of voters that wants those in Washington to act as partners, rather than partisans. While others angrily vow to “take back our country,” Romney can promise to take it forward.

In short, Romney can position himself as something that has become almost extinct in American politics: a moderate Republican. And he'd have the field practically to himself.

Let the Newt Gingriches and Sarah Palins fight for the heart of the conservative base (it's a losing battle; it doesn't have one), Romney can offer a compelling alternative.

It has worked on the Democratic side, where there are elected candidates with conservative views — that's why the party had so much trouble securing passage of health care, even with substantial majorities in both house; Democratic abortion opponents almost derailed it.

And it worked for none other than Mitt Romney's father, George Romney, who left a successful career in the automotive industry in 1962 to become governor of Michigan as ... a moderate Republican. (They weren't quite such a novelty back then.)

Besides, Mitt would be able to say he was way ahead of Barack Obama on the president's signal initiative. As governor, he signed Massachusetts' health care plan back in 2006. He out-health cared health care!

Romney's biggest challenge, of course, would be the conservative media. They're not afraid to eat their own, as Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele found out last year when he dared refer to Rush Limbaugh as a mere entertainer. But they're going to line up behind a more fervent practitioner of conservatism anyway, at least during the primaries.

So Romney — who has not formally announced his intentions in 2012 but is widely expected to run — really has nothing to lose. He can join the parade of repealers, as he seems to be doing by announcing his PAC will help fund candidates running this fall on a platform of reversing parts of the new health care bill. Or he can march to his own drummer, which would attract the attention not only of disaffected Republicans but the vast array of non-affiliated voters.

Hard to imagine leading a parade wouldn't give you a better shot at marching to the White House than joining one already in progress.

Contact Messenger managing editor Kevin Frisch at (585) 394-0770, ext. 257, or via e-mail atkfrisch@messengerpostmedia.com.