Excellent piece by Steve Kornacki this morning making the argument for Mitt Romney as frontrunner. I'm not sure I agree that Romney has the best chance of winning, but I continue to agree with Kornacki and others (Matt Yglesias yesterday, and a first-rate piece by my brother and longtime Mitt watcher David S. Bernstein last week) who don't believe that health care is a major obstacle for him. Instead, as David says, "it's more a symptom than a cause" of Romney's troubles.
I guess what it comes down to is exactly what ACA opposition means to Republicans. Certainly, both elites and rank-and-file voters are all hot and bothered about it, and I don't discount that entirely. After all, every candidate, Romney included, will support repeal. However, I guess I think that at the end of the day, it's almost purely symbolic for almost all of them. It stands for Obama-the-Socialist, Obama-the-Other, Obama-the-Enemy. It's not about health care, really, and so logically connecting past health care positions with Obama's health care plan is sort of irrelevant.
Now, that's not to say that Republicans actually agree with ACA. Indeed, I think opposition to any sort of government-initiated universal health care is the most natural movement conservative position. Yes, conservative politicians (not just Mitt!) have in the past supported things that looked like Obama's health care plan, but I think in almost all cases that was just about playing defense in a situation in which the true movement conservative position (that is, it's not the government's concern) is wildly unpopular.
But that's about health care. Opposition to Obamacare, I'm saying, isn't about health care at all. And since Romney will have no trouble meeting the litmus test of opposing Obama, I don't think too many Republicans will really care about the other thing.
Just remember: issues have a way of being used to mask what's really going on. So if Republican leaders conclude that Romney isn't acceptable for other reasons, such as perhaps a sense that his religion is unacceptable, or that he won't be reliable on taxes or litmus-test social issues, they may well use Romneycare to convince the rank-and-file that Romney fails the Obama test. It's also possible that voters will do the same: rather than admitting (even to themselves) that bigotry is driving their vote (should that be the case), they could latch on to whatever issue is available, and health care will be there. But if it wasn't that, it would be some other issue.