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Win and Replace

Oct 17, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 05 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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There is a way out for Romney, however. He could stop defending his health care bill as a matter of policy, freely admitting its shortcomings instead of stubbornly singing its praises. He could note that he was serving as governor of arguably the most liberal state in the country, and he gave​—​and admittedly spearheaded the efforts to give​—​the voters of that state exactly what they wanted. He could make clear that he not only wouldn’t want such legislation to be implemented nationally, he also wouldn’t want it to be implemented in other states​—​not only because it’s far too government-centric but because he has learned from his experience. He could highlight that his efforts in Massachusetts (like Obamacare) focused on covering people, and therefore did nothing to lower costs and instead increased them. He could convey that the experience has taught him that real health care reform must focus on lowering costs by fostering greater competition and choice. That, in turn, would make affordable care available to more people. Finally, Romney could make clear his insistence that any replacement legislation must employ this cost-first approach​—​thereby demonstrating that, unlike the current president, he can learn from his mistakes.

If Romney does this, he will likely win. If he fails to do it, however, he will encourage an open competition in which Republican voters will evaluate the candidates whom they more fully trust on repeal-and-replace, appraising them on the basis of the first two criteria listed above: their ability to win the nomination and beat Obama.

For the fast-rising Herman Cain, and for the fading Rick Perry, this will mean that Republican voters will focus on their debating skills. Each must convince voters that his political judgment, his knowledge of issues and events, and his ability to think and react on his feet are up to the challenge. For Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who have shown themselves to be worthy debaters, voters will be looking for further evidence of wit, charm, and good-natured interaction​—​in short, for evidence that they could win over independents.

While much of the talk, especially in the mainstream press, will continue to focus on other aspects of this race, it’s worth remembering this: Republican voters are far more committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare than many of their party’s highest-profile leaders would appear to be. And in the end​—​to paraphrase William F. Buckley Jr.​—​they will ensure that their nominee is the person most committed to repeal who can win.

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