The evolution of conservative attitudes on Mitt Romney and health care has been fascinating to watch from a distance. It's also become principle-free, as became evident this week.
It seems like ancient history now, but a year ago, prominent Republicans said Romney would have no choice but to apologize for his Massachusetts health care reform law, which ultimately served as a blueprint for President Obama's Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). Sen. John Thune (R-S.C.), Mike Huckabee, Karl Rove, and prominent conservative activists throughout the party demanded that he "acknowledge he made a mistake."
Romney, at the time building his campaign around an anti-apology attack, refused, and in time, a subtle detente emerged -- the right would put its apoplexy aside, and the candidate just wouldn't talk about his only meaningful accomplishment in public office.
The arrangement, however, has been fragile. In early August, Romney's chief spokesperson, Andrea Saul, gave the right a heart attack when she suggested on Fox News that struggling families nationwide would benefit greatly if only they lived under Romneycare at the national level -- implicitly endorsing the implementation of Obamacare. Conservatives were livid, and the campaign was left battered and confused.
But with 39 days to go, both Romney's and conservatives' standards have changed.
A little more than 24 hours have passed since Mitt Romney took the base-alienating step of touting the health care law he signed while governor of Massachusetts in an interview with NBC. Unlike the last time his campaign heralded his signature achievement, however, the conservative grumbling was relatively muted.
Why? Because, Republicans say, things are so bad for Romney that they'll even let him talk up his health care law.
It would be an exaggeration to say the right let this go unnoticed entirely, but the reaction was muted, at best. After Saul's comments in August, for example, RedState's Erick Erickson said, "This might just be the moment Mitt Romney lost the election." After Romney's even more direct comments on Wednesday, there was no meaningful outrage.
"Conservatives have bigger fish to fry than worry about doctrine right now," conservative Rick Wilson said.
The "Romney better apologize for Romneycare" line from 12 months ago is but a distant memory.