How big a deal is the Romney campaign's tax/penalty flip-flopping?

Does anyone seriously care about this? I know we’ve written a bunch of posts about it — it’s the political story du jour so we’re almost obliged — but I can’t believe there’s a single voter outside the chattering class that’s following it. Think of all the things a voter has to know just to be able to keep up:


1. Massachusetts has universal health insurance.
2. The linchpin of that insurance program is a mandate requiring people to buy coverage.
3. The program was signed into law by Mitt Romney.
4. ObamaCare is based on Massachusetts’s program.
5. States can pass mandates requiring citizens to purchase things but it’s not clear whether the federal government can do so under the Constitution.
6. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the federal government can impose mandates pursuant to its tax power but not pursuant to its power over interstate commerce.
7. Romney’s campaign spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, said after the Court’s decision that he believes the mandate is not a tax.
8. Mitt Romney contradicted Fehrnstrom by saying that if the Supreme Court thinks the mandate’s a tax, then it should be regarded as a tax — even if he personally disagrees with that interpretation.

How many of those facts do you think the average low-information swing voter — the group that’s going to decide this election — is aware of? One? Maybe two? Bear in mind, despite the Court ruling having been front page on every newspaper in America last week, fully 45 percent of adults said afterwards that they either didn’t know how the Court had ruled or thought that they had struck down most of ObamaCare. That’s the level of ignorance we’re dealing with here. And yet we’re now seeing dopey navel-gazing in the papers and grumbling among some prominent conservatives about whether Romney should shake up his campaign staff, even though the guy’s within three points in the poll of polls. I can accept this being a one-day story, if only because it’s the slowest week of the summer and we need something to kvetch about it. But we’re now on day four, full in the knowledge that the voters whom Mitt needs to win the election are in a de facto coma when it comes to this subject. C’mon.


Besides, if you think this is a big deal and simply must have someone to blame, why blame Romney’s staff instead of the candidate himself? They’re not the ones who made RomneyCare happen. Philip Klein:

In April 2010, just weeks after the national health care law passed, I warned that if Republicans nominated Romney in 2012, it could kill the effort to repeal Obamacare, precisely because he wouldn’t be able to credibly attack Obama on health care. It’s something that I emphasized repeatedly during the primaries and discussed in my ebook on the Romney nomination. Had Republicans nominated any other GOP candidate, right now they’d be sitting back and watching Obama and his surrogates squirm in trying to explain why the mandate was a tax for legal purposes but still didn’t violate his middle class tax pledge. Instead, Romney’s struggles to reconcile the irreconcilable are complicating things…

It’s inevitable that any Republican holding or seeking office who attacks Obamacare’s mandate as a tax will be asked whether the Massachusetts mandate signed by their own nominee is also a tax. They shouldn’t feel the need to defend Romney’s untenable position, or to squirm uncomfortably when asked. Republicans can agree with Romney on repeal without having to make excuses for what he did in Massachusetts. A good answer would be something along the lines of this: “You never find a candidate who you’re going to agree with 100 percent of the time. I disagree with mandates at both the federal and state level and don’t support the Massachusetts health care law. But I do agree with Romney that Obamacare is a disastrous law for all 50 states and that it needs to be repealed. And that’s why I support him.”


This is all going to come to a head three months from now when Obama and Romney get into a squabble at one of the debates over one guy’s mandate versus the other guy’s mandate, and the press will wet itself over whether the exchange is a gamechanger and how Obama proved he was a fightin’ Democrat after all by putting Romney on the defensive and whether Romney should have hired a different debate coach, blah blah blah blah blah. And meanwhile, 80 percent of the people watching it at home will be thinking “What are they arguing about now?

Speaking of taxes and penalties, here’s Romney suggesting that Roberts is no longer his model for a Supreme Court nominee. Exit question: Anyone think that Paul Clement won’t be nominated at the first available vacancy if Romney wins?

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David Strom 6:00 PM | May 21, 2024