Earlier today, Mediaite resident conservative Noah Rothman called on Mitt Romney to clean his campaign house, starting with senior campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom, in large part due to Fehrnstrom’s insistence that his candidate agrees with President Obama that the Affordable Care Act’s mandate is not a tax.
As it turns out, the Romney campaign is either doing damage control with dynamite, or that really was Romney’s position all along. The campaign released a memo to reporters that chiseled that position, which Noah rightly observed “completely undercut the potential electoral boost that the Republican presidential campaign received from the Supreme Court finding the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act to be a tax rather than a fine,” in stone.
On The Daily Rundown Monday morning, Fehrnstrom made news when he told Chuck Todd that “What we put in place in Massachusetts is a penalty and [Romney] disagrees with the Court’s ruling that it is a tax.”
Rather than try to walk back Fehrnstrom’s comments, the Romney campaign sent a memo to reporters this afternoon which attempted to cast Romney’s complete agreement with President Obama as “hypocrisy” on the President’s part:
“The Supreme Court left President Obama with two choices: the federal individual mandate in Obamacare is either a constitutional tax or an unconstitutional penalty. Governor Romney thinks it is an unconstitutional penalty. What is President Obama’s position: is his federal mandate unconstitutional or is it a tax?” –Andrea Saul, Romney Campaign Spokesperson
Regardless of how you feel about the tax vs. penalty argument, Romney and company are taking the exact wrong position in this argument. If there’s any political gain to be had at all (a debatable notion; the Republicans would do better to change the subject), it is in trying to mutter the word “tax” as frequently and loudly as possible.
Whether it’s a tax or a penalty (or both, as the Supreme Court’s decision seems to indicate), the one thing it definitely is now is constitutional. Given the choice to argue with President Obama and the Supreme Court, the Romney campaign has opted to agree with their opponent, while picking a fight with the Republican-appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. While Chief Justice John Roberts may not be the most popular guy among conservatives right now, he’s also not the guy Gov. Romney is trying to unseat come November.
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