This [that is, health care] is not just an issue that he has taken a bad political position on, like John McCain and campaign finance reform. It’s an issue fundamentally anathema to the party, one universally regarded as the breaking point between freedom and tyranny.And:
Romney resembles Joe Lieberman, who rode the momentum of his 2000 vice presidential run to lead the Democratic polls through 2002 and 2003. But Lieberman was never going to win his party’s nomination in 2004—he was simply too out of step with its mood.And then, on Romney vs Pawlenty:
One way I disagree with you is in your equivalence between different kinds of flaws. These flaws matter only to the extent that Republican primary voters believe they matter. When a massive portion of the Republican communication apparatus is driving the message that Romney is an ideological heretic, then fellow candidates’ attacks on Romney will resonate.OK. Here's the deal: I mostly agree with the third segment, for most issues. I believe, however, that health care and the individual mandate is, in fact, one of those issues. Is it "regarded as a the breaking point between freedom and tyranny" by most Republicans? Yes, I suppose it is -- but not because of some deeply held belief, but only because they're being told it is. They use apocalyptic language about it? Well, of course they do; they use that kind of language about everything (including climate, unfortunately for Pawlenty). Including, by the way, campaign finance when it was being used against McCain.
But that doesn't make Romney anything like Holy Joe. What Republicans find horrible isn't health care reform, or exchanges, or the individual mandate -- what they find horrible is Barack Obama's health care reform. And that, Romney has no problem at all opposing. Lieberman's case is different. First of all, he actively supported the policy Democrats didn't like -- and second of all, Democrats really did oppose the specific policy.
Now, I certainly do believe that health care is something of a problem for Romney, but I don't at all believe that it's the reason that many party leaders are wary of him, and others are strongly opposed. I think many conservatives basically believe, as Cohn and Chait do, that he's not really one of them. That's a serious problem. Whether it's fatal, however, depends -- as it did for John McCain four years ago -- on the opposition. If it turns out that Tim Pawlenty just won't catch fire with the rank-and-file (and if Rick Perry doesn't get in), Romney might be the only viable horse to ride, and if he is most of them may well hop aboard, perhaps reluctantly, rather than winding up with a disaster of historic proportions.
Sure: some Republican purists would rather lose with Bachmann or Palin or Roy Moore than have a shot of winning with Romney. But a lot of Republicans have strong incentives to nominate at least a somewhat viable candidate. Yes, they would rather find someone who looks like a winner and is a true believer, or at least can more plausibly pretend to be. But if there's no one like that by the turn of the calendar year, they may find that sticking Mitt is as good an option as they have.
*(Update: Edited title to correct spelling. TNR's Jon Cohn, not WaPo's Jon Cohen. Had it right in body, wrong in headline. Ugh. Sorry, All)