It’s been a long week for Mitt Romney. First, the Supreme Court upholds the individual mandate in the health care reform act that the right derides as “Obamacare,” infuriating conservatives. Then, Romney’s top adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, goes on television and in an interview with NBC News’ Chuck Todd, declares that he agrees with the Court’s dissenters that the mandate is not a tax.
Not a tax? Republicans had spent the days following the ruling rolling out a new term: “Obamatax,” to replace “Obamacare,” which polls show is getting slightly, but measurably, more popular. They even got the “Obamatax” meme going as a Twitter hashtag. Their goal is to shift the message of the election from “the economy is bad, vote for Romney.” … to “Obama raised taxes! Vote for Romney!”
That meant Fehrnstrom, who previously distinguished himself by suggesting that Romney would “Etch-a-Sketch” away his right wing positions from the Republican primary once he got into the general election, was woefully out of step. It was not exactly a gaffe — Fehrnstrom was defending Romney against the inevitable charge that if “Obamacare’s” mandate is a tax, then “Romneycare’s” identical mandate when Romney was the Massachusetts governor, was too.
Romney has spent two presidential cycles insisting that he never raised taxes in Massachusetts (though he does admit he raised “fees” — which apparently in politics, are entirely different, and “penalties,” which Romney himself has argued that the individual mandate amounts to.) So allowing that the individual mandate in the federal version of his own health care plan is a tax, would implicate Romney in conservatism’s greatest sin: raising taxes. And calling the mandate a penalty would mean that Romney agrees with Nancy Pelosi.
Still, Fehrnstrom’s defense of Romney fell flat in conservative media, and among Republican politicians, who had already begun messaging against Democrats on the tax issue.
So on Independence Day, Romney finally sat down for a network interview with someone other than Fox News, choosing the CBS Early Show to announce that indeed, his top adviser’s pronouncements notwithstanding, the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act is a tax, after all.
Romney told CBS News:
“I said that I agreed with the dissent, and the dissent made it very clear that they felt it was unconstitutional,” Romney said. “But the dissent lost — it’s in the minority. The Supreme Court has spoken, and while I agreed with the dissent, that’s taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said it’s a tax, and therefore it is a tax. They have spoken. There’s no way around that.”
But apparently, Romney hopes there is a way around Fehrnstrom’s — and his own — former position.
Follow Joy-Ann Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport