When a presidential candidate says something that soon has his aides stepping in to clarify, theres trouble. By now, the trouble is obvious in the Mitt Romney camp, particularly among those tea party Republicans who cant decide whether they despise President Obama or the government more.
They were skeptical about Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, from the start of his presidential campaign because they feared he might have a little too much moderate in him.
And now ... oh boy. In a television interview broadcast last weekend, Romney said he would keep some parts of the 2010 law reforming national health care.
The problem with keeping just parts of the law is that the overall objective of providing access to health insurance for millions of people who are not now covered, and doing it in a way that makes economic sense, is achieved with a tight-knit plan that involves private insurers, drug companies and regulation.
Picking some significant parts the most attractive parts and tossing others because they impose necessary requirements would unravel reform.
And besides, whats Mitt Romney doing here anyway?
Time and again on the campaign trail during the primaries and caucuses, as he was criticized by his fellow Republicans for supporting a Massachusetts health insurance mandate that worked (it had the lowest percentage of uninsured people in the U.S.), Romney said that not only would he repeal Obamacare, hed do it on his first day in office. (He glossed over the need for Congress to cooperate by no means a done deal.)
So what happened? Some tea partyers doubtless suspect the former governor has caught a bug known as the post-nomination syndrome, characterized by a Republican who ran as a staunch conservative but wasnt really one now moving from the far right to the more center right.
From a political standpoint, its something Romney may almost have to do if he wants to be elected president. Even if the tea partyers come out in full force on Election Day, there arent nearly enough of them to put Romney over the top, particularly since getting their support means losing the support of many moderates.
The problem is that the most conservative elements in the GOP wont take Obamacare (even if it might benefit some of them and their families) because it is championed by Barack Obama, the man they love to despise.
What happened after Romney said what he said about keeping part of reform really made him look worse. He had discussed the fact that he thought people who had pre-existing medical conditions should be allowed to get insurance (instead of being turned down flat by companies), which is part of reform. Aides said he was being consistent.
The former governor, they said, has always supported the idea that those who have insurance and have medical conditions should be able to keep it, but that those who dont have insurance dont deserve that kind of guarantee.
Now what does that mean? It sounds like it means, If you have insurance, you can keep it if youre sick. But if you dont have insurance, tough luck! Thats not just absent compassion, its just curious.
Particularly coming from someone, lets remember, who played the role of Romney the Repealer.
It would be a refreshing moment in presidential politics if a candidate who had vehemently disagreed with his opponent on a topic decided after due consideration that perhaps his opponent wasnt wrong after all, and announced that to the electorate. But thats not what Mitt Romney did. He just got off message, as they say. Which is easy to do if you may not agree with the message in the first place.