On Meet the Press yesterday, Mitt Romney tried to explain what he would do about the country’s healthcare system once he delivered on his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. Romney told host David Gregory that “there are a number of things I like” about Obamacare, and named the features that allow young people to stay on their parents’ plans and the pre-existing conditions protections:


The takeaway for everyone watching was that Romney wouldn’t actually gut the whole law. But only hours later, Romney advisers told a conservative website that he was just kidding:

In reference to how Romney would deal with those with preexisting conditions and young adults who want to remain on their parents’ plans, a Romney aide responded that there had been no change in Romney’s position and that “in a competitive environment, the marketplace will make available plans that include coverage for what there is demand for. He was not proposing a federal mandate to require insurance plans to offer those particular features.”

So essentially Romney “likes” those features, but wouldn’t actually do anything to create them—he just trusts the marketplace to make it happen somehow. Romney can’t say he would pass any law to do so, because that would then resemble the dread Obamacare.

This sloppy two-step on healthcare isn’t unique to Romney, however—it reflects a party held hostage by its right wing, and we’ve seen this dance before. We noted in May that John Boehner was forced to perform a nearly identical flip-flop as the Supreme Court was preparing to rule on the health reform law.

A Politico story reported on May 17 that House GOP leadership was preparing bills to replace the pre-existing condition and young-adult provisions should the entire legislation be overturned—and then right-wingers flipped out. “If this is true I have had it. I’m calling out John Boehner right now,” said powerful radio talker Mark Levin. “Look how fast they fold like a cheap tent.” Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association tweeted: “GOP thinking about keeping parts of ObamaCare, if you can believe it. No, no, a thousand times no.”

Within a day, Boehner had to pull the same move that Romney just did. His office sent out an e-mail making it clear that, contra the Politico reporting, “Anything Short of Full ObamaCare Repeal is Unacceptable.”

Sure, Romney’s quick flip-flop on healthcare reform yesterday underscores now-familiar problems with his campaign: holding multiple positions and ultimately leaning on an impossibly vague policy prescription. (If the healthcare reform law were repealed in full, what would stop private insurance companies from rejecting customers with pre-existing conditions?)

But the real story here is how the right-wing has the GOP under its boot, refusing to allow even noncontroversial, broadly acceptable policy fixes if they were at any time supported by Barack Obama. It would be good politics for Romney to offer voters, particularly middle-class independents, some backstops should the healthcare reform law be repealed—the Tea just Party won’t let him, just as they didn’t let Boehner when he made the same, accurate calculation. This is the price a political party pays for whipping up rabid opposition to anything done by the current administration, no matter what it was.