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Wrong argument, wrong candidate

Remember the line Rick Santorum took against Mitt Romney in March? The race for the Republican nomination was not quite over, and the former senator, referencing health care policy, told voters in Wisconsin, "Pick any other Republican in the country. [Romney] is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama."

Yesterday's developments help reinforce the fact that Santorum had a point.

Consider today's Boston Herald. For those unfamiliar with the outlet, the Herald is an unabashedly conservative paper, which goes out of its way to boost Republican candidates. Its front page headline this morning reads: "For Romney, Obamacare Ruling's Just What The Doctor Ordered."

Contrary to conventional wisdom, an anti-tax backlash over the Supreme Court's blockbuster decision upholding Obamacare could propel Mitt Romney all the way to the Oval Office, national Republicans said.... President Obama had originally promised the overhaul wouldn't tax the middle class, and Republicans quickly seized on the ruling to point out that is exactly what the law does.

"Chief Justice John Roberts has all but gift-wrapped the election for Republicans with this ruling," said Keith Appell, a GOP consultant based in Washington, D.C. "Now every single Democrat will have to defend the largest tax increase in American history during a bad economy in an election year."

As a matter of policy, this is deeply silly. The mandate remains a tax penalty that will only apply to free riders -- about 1% of the population, according to the CBO, who can afford insurance but refuse to get it.

But even if we put this aside, there's that nagging detail the Boston Herald and other Republicans keep overlooking: Mitt Romney's health care law in Massachusetts, his crowning accomplishment in government, has an identical mandate and an identical tax penalty. If Obamacare's mandate must be considered a tax increase, Romneycare's mandate must also be considered a tax increase.

Indeed, we can make this even more explicit: Mitt Romney is the only public official in American history to approve and implement this specific tax increase.

The conservatives who rushed yesterday to fill Romney's coffers are supporting the godfather of Obamacare -- the guy who imposed this health care mandate (read: tax increase) before the president was even elected. It's exactly why Santorum called him the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama," and why in retrospect, Santorum had a point.