During his private equity career, Mitt Romney was famous as a supersalesman who could dazzle clients with data. But his PowerPoint mastery may not be enough to make him U.S. president. Thursday’s slide-show defense of the controversial health plan he created as Massachusetts governor likely failed to satisfy conservative critics.
Judged purely as political theater, the hour-long, televised presentation Romney gave at the University of Michigan was impressive. The faltering Republican frontrunner speedily navigated through the healthcare problems facing the Bay State when he took office and how he went about devising a solution. He explained that before his 2004 reforms, almost a half million state residents were uninsured. Now it’s down to 100,000 thanks to the government programs he started, Romney said. And he didn’t need to raise taxes to do it. Few of his 2012 rivals can match his policy knowledge.
Right-wing Republicans didn’t consider Romneycare as a disqualifier when the former Bain Capital chief ran for the party’s nomination back in 2008. But it’s Romney’s bad luck that a key feature of his healthcare plan can also be found in President Barack Obama’s: a requirement all citizens purchase health insurance if they can afford it. A decade ago, some conservatives pushed the idea as a matter of “personal responsibility.” And as smart economics, too. They saw it as a way of stopping a free-rider problem since American emergency rooms will treat whomever walks through their doors.
In the more libertarian Tea Party GOP of 2011, however, the “individual mandate” is considered a grievous breach of personal liberty, whether it applies at the state level or federal. Indeed, the rule’s constitutionally is the heart of legal challenges to Obamacare. And Romney’s continued support for his version has seriously damaged his White House prospects. To conservative activists, it’s about values not economic results. His deluge of numbers, no matter how elegantly displayed, is politically irrelevant.
Romney, well financed and with a crack campaign team behind him, could still be the nominee. Some voters will surely like that he’s sticking to his guns. But if someday Romney gives a PowerPoint on how he failed to win the GOP nod in 2012, there’s no doubt what will be on that first slide.