... Rick Santorum would have been declared the knockout winner over Mitt Romney tonight, for backing him into making a plainer, simpler case for the "individual mandate" in health coverage than Barack Obama himself has ever made. (In fairness, Obama was against the individual mandate during the 2008 primaries, which may affect his ability to argue for it now.) I don't see any video posts at the moment, so here's the gist of it tonight, emphasis added:
ROMNEY: For the 8 percent of people [in Massachusetts] who didn't have insurance, we said to them, if you can afford insurance, buy it yourself, any one of the plans out there, you can choose any plan. There's no government plan.
And if you don't want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn't have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care. So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility.
Either get the insurance or help pay for your care. And that was the conclusion that we reached.... Everyone has a requirement to either buy it or pay the state for the cost of providing them free care. Because the idea of people getting something for free when they could afford to care for themselves is something that we decided in our state was not a good idea.
That's the "individual mandate," plain and simple. As Santorum eventually got around to pointing out.
BLITZER: Let's move on, let's move on. [BAD IDEA Wolf!!!]
SANTORUM: Wolf, what Governor Romney said is just factually incorrect. Your mandate is no different than Barack Obama's mandate. It is the same mandate. ...
Santorum is correct. This was a looser, woolier version of the very sharp and harsh case Michael Kinsley made about Romney's utter, complete, no-disguise flip-flop on health care plans, last week on Bloomberg.
I am not a Republican strategist, but if I were, I would worry about the problem of the "strongest" candidate making a flat-out ridiculous and disprovable claim about the issue his party says is the most objectionable part of the current president's program.
Placeholder for next installment: Romney said late in the debate
We stand with our friend Israel. We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel.
First sentence: Yes. Second sentence: Yes -- U.S. policy for more than half a century. Third sentence: is there any country to which an American president should pledge all-out no-exceptions fealty? The United Kingdom is perhaps our closest ally. But we have disagreed and will in the future. Same with Canada, France, Australia, Japan. "Not an inch of difference," even if they're wrong? This is not what we want to hear from an American president about any other country. And it is not how any president would govern, which means that it is by definition an election-year pander.