In his health-care speech, will Romney side-step the challenge in front of him: reconciling the similarities between his health-care law and President Obama’s?... Flashback to 2007: Romney largely side-stepped the issue about his Mormon faith… Romney’s five objectives for health reform… The health-care questions Romney will eventually have to answer… What the individual mandate actually says about today’s GOP… Oh, Cheri: Indiana first lady steps into the spotlight tonight… Gingrich on “winning the future”… Obama’s Cairo speech, part 2?... And MTP’s “Press Pass” features pollsters Peter Hart and Bill McInturff.
*** A big 24 hours: The 2012 race now feels fully engaged, with Gingrich’s announcement yesterday, Romney’s health-care speech today, and Cheri Daniels debut tonight before Indiana Republicans. As significant as Gingrich and Daniels may be, the most important event is the speech being delivered by Romney this afternoon, and it's where we begin.
*** Side-stepping the issue? With his poll numbers declining before the '08 Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney delivered his own Jeremiah Wright speech in Dec. 2007 -- about his religious faith. It partially echoed JFK's famous speech about his Catholicism ("A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith," Romney said), and it drew praise from plenty of corners. But it wasn’t exactly a brave speech: The majority of it was about the freedom of religion, America's religious roots, and the need for religion in public life. Moreover, Romney didn't really directly confront some evangelicals' chief concerns about Mormonism; in fact, the speech mentioned the word “Mormon” just once (compared with the 20 times Kennedy said “Catholic” in 1960). A month later, Romney would go on to lose Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and, eventually, the GOP nomination.
*** Romney’s faith speech vs. his health-care speech: Like that religion speech in 2007, the health-care address that Romney will deliver at 2:00 pm ET today in Ann Arbor, MI isn’t expected to directly confront the political challenge in front of him: reconciling the similarities between his Massachusetts health-care law and President Obama’s and reassuring small government conservatives that he isn't for government at ANY level telling them what to do. Rather, he’s trying to put the whole issue in the rear-view mirror. Per an aide, the thrust of the speech will be about the future -- repealing and replacing Obama’s health law. And in a USA Today op-ed, Romney outlined five objectives he wants to accomplish: 1) restore to the states the responsibility and resources to care for the poor, uninsured, and chronically ill; 2) give a tax deduction to those who buy their own health care; 3) streamline health care’s federal regulations; 4) make health care more like a consumer market; and 5) enacting medical malpractice reform. While Romney’s camp says he’ll mention his Massachusetts health-care law -- and won’t apologize for it -- it won’t be the focus of the speech.
*** The questions Romney will eventually have to answer: While Romney’s religion speech mentioned “Mormon” just once, his op-ed doesn’t mention “mandate” at all. And so far, his selective media strategy (writing op-eds, giving unfiltered speeches, granting friendly interviews) has allowed him to avoid the tough questions on health care. Such as: If health reform -- with an individual mandate -- was good for Massachusetts, then why isn’t it good for other states? Can you really drive down health-care costs if one state (say MA) insures everyone, while another state (say NH) doesn’t and sees its uninsured getting care in emergency rooms? Is health care a national problem or a state-based problem? And if it’s a national one, then shouldn’t that require a national solution? Finally, there’s this: If Romney now opposes a federal individual mandate, why did he did tell the New Republic’s John Judis in 1994 that he would have supported the late Sen. John Chaffee’s (R) health-care proposal which, it turns out, included a federal mandate? Or why he said on “Meet the Press” in 2007 that he hopes other states take “a mandate approach.” The problem fundamental for Romney: Tea Party conservatives don’t want their governments (federal, state, or local) telling them what to do.
*** What the individual mandate says about the GOP: Yet Romney’s political gymnastics on health care -- or even Tim Pawlenty’s apology for once supporting cap-and-trade -- says more about the current Republican Party than it does anything else. After all, both the individual mandate and cap-and-trade were once conservative responses to liberal ideas. (Example: The individual mandate was a market-based way to get to universal coverage, versus the single-payer way.) As MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who advised BOTH Romney and Obama on health care, told First Read, the individual mandate “is a conservative brainchild.” But after Obama adopted these approaches, the GOP considered them anathema. So it comes as no surprise that the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page today takes Romney to the woodshed for supporting an individual mandate. “[T]he debate over ObamaCare and the larger entitlement state may be the central question of the 2012 election. On that question, Mr. Romney is compromised and not credible. If he does not change his message, he might as well try to knock off Joe Biden and get on the Obama ticket.”
*** Today’s soundtrack: Oh, Cheri: The other big 2012 story today is Mitch Daniels -- and his wife, Cheri -- speaking tonight at the Indiana GOP spring dinner. While there has been much speculation about what the speech (particularly Cheri’s) might mean for Daniels’s ultimate 2012 decision, a spokesman for the Indiana Republican Party tells us that we shouldn’t expect an announcement from either the governor of his wife. “Her remarks will focus on what it’s like to be Indiana’s first lady and include stories and observations from her six years of traveling around the Hoosier State. She won’t be discussing politics or policy,” the spokesman says. Yet Cheri Daniels makes the front page of today’s New York Times: “While much is known about Mr. Daniels in Republican circles … there is one period of his life that has remained almost entirely private — until now. He has been married twice — to the same wife. Should he run, that chapter in his life would no doubt be picked over in public and become a part of the personal narrative that springs up around any serious candidate.” And the Washington Post has this: “In exchange for anonymity, an official for another GOP prospect provided contact information for the ex-wife of the man Cheri Daniels married, in the years between her divorce and remarriage to Daniels.” Gov. Daniels, welcome to the big leagues.
*** The battle over “winning the future”: Sticking with the 2012 field, Newt Gingrich -- after officially announcing his presidential bid yesterday -- appeared on FOX last night. Some highlights, per NBC’s Lauren Selsky: "The reason that I came here tonight to announce that I am candidate for president of the United States is because I think if you apply the right principles to achieve the right results that we can win the future together and I don't think that having a president that applies the wrong principles and gets the wrong results is going to lead to winning the future.” More: “I think this country has an enormous country to breakout and to once again be at 4% unemployment, to have a surplus of American energy, to be the leading industrial power in the world, to balance the budget as we did for four years when I was speaker, to reform entitlements as we did with welfare when I was speaker.”
*** Cairo speech, part 2? The New York Times says that President Obama “plans to give a speech on the Middle East in which he will seek to put Bin Laden’s death in the context of the region’s broader political transformation. The message, said one of his deputy national security advisers, Benjamin J. Rhodes, will be that ‘Bin Laden is the past; what’s happening in the region is the future.’” The speech does carry some risks for Obama, however, as the war in Libya remains a stalemate (although the rebels seem to have the momentum) as Syria continues its crackdown (as much of the West remains silent). Today’s sked: At 11:00 am ET, Obama and Vice President Biden meet with the Senate GOP Caucus to discuss deficit reduction, while he meets with the Congressional Black Caucus at 2:30 pm.
*** MTP’s “Press Pass”: On Meet the Press’ weekly “Press Pass,” NBC’s David Gregory interviews NBC co-pollsters Peter Hart (D) and Bill McInturff (R) about our latest poll. Said McInturff: “The stunner here in this survey is we have two decades, two generations of data that say the average president gets a double digit bounce after this kind of event. This president received almost no bounce -- three to six points. That’s very minimal. And it tells you again how pervasive economic concerns are and what an anchor they are to his election chances unless the economy improves.”
Countdown to NY-26 special election: 12 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 92 day
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 124 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 180 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 270 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up