SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney criticized both President Barack Obama's "fundamental dishonesty" about the Affordable Care Act and tea party Republicans Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"Whether you like the model of Obamacare or not, the fact that the president sold it on a basis that was not true has undermined the foundation of his second term. I think it's rotting away," the 2012 GOP presidential candidate said.
Speaking from Utah, where he has homes in Holladay and Deer Valley, Romney also took on the tea party over the government shutdown and touted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a moderate, as a leading contender for president in 2016.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, led fellow tea party Republicans in Congress in trying to stop the new health care law by cutting funding for it from the budget bill needed to keep the government running.
The tactic, which led to a 16-day shutdown of the federal government and a near-default on the nation's debts, had previously been opposed by Romney, including during a visit to the University of Utah last month.
Sunday, Romney said again it was the wrong move. "I though it would not be effective and it was not effective," he said. "The shutdown was not the right way to go in my view."
He deliberately left Cruz off his list of "very capable" presidential candidates, saying he believes the party "will be very anxious to choose someone as our nominee in 2016 who we think has the best prospects of actually winning."
Christie, Romney said, "could easily become our nominee and save our party" because of his ability to work across the aisle as the GOP governor of a state dominated by Democrats.
He downplayed as "nothing new" concerns about weight and other issues raised by his campaign when Christie was vetted as a potential vice presidential candidate, reported in a new book being released next week, "Double Down."
"I know that in a campaign, people dredge up all the old stuff again. But he's already dealt with it," Romney said. "He provided his health records to us. His health is very solid, very good. There's not an issue there."
Christie may stand out "as one of the very strongest lights" of the GOP, but Romney also named his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as "compelling."
Although the tea party is already pressing for Republicans to choose a more conservative presidential nominee than Romney or the party's 2008 pick, Arizona Sen. John McCain, Romney said electability and conservatism must go together.
"I had a very conservative platform and that kind of conservative platform, I think, is the foundation of any successful campaign in 2016," he said. "I just happen to think you want to combine conservatism with the ability to get elected."
The former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake saved his harshest words for the Democratic president that defeated him last November.
Romney said his own overhaul of the Massachusetts health care system in 2006 as governor held important lessons for Obama, especially the need to level with the public.
"When he told the American people that, 'You could keep your health insurance if you wanted to keep that plan, period,' — he said that again and again — he wasn't telling the truth," Romney said.
Obama's "fundamental dishonesty has really put in peril" his second term in the White House, Romney said, because "he knew that was not the case. He could know it by looking at Massachusetts and seeing people there lost insurance."
Romney also said the president should have allowed the states to come up with their own plans "to get all their citizens insured and make sure pre-existing conditions are covered" and phased in those plans to avoid glitches.
The administration's health insurance website has been plagued by technical problems since it went online Oct. 1 while several million Americans reportedly have lost their existing insurance or are seeing their premiums increase.
Had the president warned Americans what was coming when the health care law took effect, Romney said "there would have been such a hue and cry against it, it would not have passed."
The battle over Obamacare was a major issue in the 2012 presidential race, with Romney promising to repeal the law on his first day in office if elected. Sunday, he detailed what he would have done as president.
"My own plan was to say to each state, 'You've got a requirement to move to a point where all your people are insured and where you cover pre-existing conditions. We're going to give you flexibility,'" Romney said.
He also discounted the contention he didn't fight hard enough in 2012, saying there was no question he wanted to win. More conservative GOP candidates sought to oust Romney, a runner-up for the nomination in 2008.
"No one could have worked harder than myself and my family worked for the campaign. We were all in, 110 percent," Romney said. "We wanted to win very desperately. We recognized what was at stake."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: DNewsPolitics
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company