Tim Pawlenty said on Fox News Sunday that Obamacare and Romneycare are essentially one and the same: "We now have essentially the same features" between the two programs, which he dubbed "Obamneycare." Given the chance to defend his attack during the GOP presidential debate Monday night, Pawlenty avoided making a substantive argument and said he was just quoting Obama.

"Well, the issue that was raised in a question from a reporter was, what are the similarities between the two?" Pawlenty said. "And I just cited President Obama’s own words that he looked to Massachusetts as a blueprint or a guide when he designed Obamacare."

"But you chose those words," debate moderator John King replied. "If it was Obamneycare on 'Fox News Sunday,' why isn’t it not Obamneycare standing here with the governor right there?"

"It — President Obama is — is the person who I quoted in saying he looked to Massachusetts for designing his program," Pawlenty answered. "He’s the one who said it’s a blueprint and that he merged the two programs. And so using the term 'Obamneycare' was a reflection of the president’s comments that he designed Obamacare on the Massachusetts health care plan."

So on Sunday, Pawlenty was willing to declare--in his own words--that Obamacare and Romneycare have "essentially the same features." But on Monday he said he was just sayin that's what Obama said.

With Pawlenty unwilling to spell out the structural similarities between the two programs, Romney could have come back with a pretty devastating rejoinder: Why do you believe Obama? Don't you think he's just playing politics?

But rather go for a direct hit on Pawlenty, Romney smartly attacked Obama. "The president is going to eat those words," Romney said. "I can’t wait to debate him and say, Mr. President, if, in fact, you did look at what we did in Massachusetts , why didn’t you give me a call and ask what worked and what didn’t? And I would have told you, Mr. President, that what you’re doing will not work."

As Michael Barone writes, "Romney came out far ahead—and established a sense of command (a vital presidential quality) over Pawlenty and the other candidates."

One has to think that Pawlenty is capable of arguing that Obamacare and Romneycare are very similar for reasons other than because Obama said so. Pawlenty must have chosen not to do so for tactical reasons. But shooting a spitball at Romney on Sunday and then hiding behind Obama on Monday is quite a puzzling move.

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