In a much-anticipated speech on health care Thursday afternoon, Mitt Romney delivered a "full-throated defense" of the overhaul he enacted five years ago as governor of Massachusetts, and tried to draw distinctions between his reform and President Obama's. Romney, widely viewed as the front-runner in a relatively lackluster Republican presidential field, has been dogged by conservative criticism of his health-care law and its mandate requiring citizens to buy their own insurance or face penalties. The "debate over ObamaCare and the larger entitlement state may be the central question of the 2012 election," The Wall Street Journal said in an "absolutely brutal" editorial on Thursday morning. "On that question, Mr. Romney is compromised and not credible." In his speech, Romney pointedly refused to apologize for his Massachusetts plan. Did he do enough to silence his critics?
No, Romney failed to make his case: Romney "just gave a more articulate defense of ObamaCare" than the president "ever has," says Avik Roy in National Review. Romney still supports the individual mandate in Massachusetts, and "was not persuasive" in trying to "make a distinction between RomneyCare and ObamaCare." He failed to note any important differences between the two plans. In fact, "he convincingly made the opposite case" — that his overhaul and Obama's "are based on the same fundamental concept."
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And he looked "absurd" trying: Romney's "attempt to thread the needle" in identifying differences between his plan and Obama's "looked completely absurd," says David Dayen at Firedoglake. Romney didn't back away from the individual mandate in Massachusetts. Instead, he effectively "doubled down on it and defended it, at times pretty strongly" — while at the same time arguing that it would be wrong for the nation as a whole. It's hard to see how that will help him in the Republican primaries.
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Romney has nothing to apologize for: Romney "was defending himself in a kangaroo court," says The Boston Globe in an editorial. His "supposed offense "wasn't an offense at all." The real crime here "was that the former governor felt the need to cater to the most misleading and overblown criticisms of federal health-care reform." In his speech Thursday, Romney "offered realistic assessments and some useful, pragmatic solutions," and came across as a "gifted businessman" and "talented public servant." The "tragedy" here is that "there’s no place" for someone like Romney "in today’s conservatism."
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Mitt wants to show he's no flip-flopper: Everything about Romney's remarks was meant "to send a broader message about his commitment to authenticity," says Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post. From the words themselves — Romney said he wasn't adjusting his stance "to reflect the political sentiment" — to his refusal to use a script or Teleprompter, the "entire presentation screamed openness." That approach "is in striking contrast" to Romney's 2008 run, when he was pilloried for lacking "conviction on any issue." Clearly, "Romney is done running from his record." The "question in the days, weeks, and months to come is whether that strategy is the right one."
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But it will take more to convince voters: Romney gave his speech from the "carefully controlled environment" of a University of Michigan classroom, but he really needs to hit the campaign trail to win over the electorate, says Michael Scherer in TIME. Writing newspaper op-eds and and explaining PowerPoint slides won't help when it comes time for a real Republican showdown. To "win the nomination, Romney will have to engage his detractors and win a public debate."
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