2012 Tuesday: Romney’s Obamacare missteps

I previously wrote that the effect of the Supreme Court’s Obamacare ruling on the presidential race would depend on how each campaign reacted to it. So far, not so good for Mitt Romney.

Romney’s initial statement made clear that he, and only he, would sign a repeal of Obamacare as president. A good start. Since then, however, it’s either been silence or an unforced error.

The unforced error, of course, was his spokesman’s televised comment that Romney doesn’t believe Obamacare’s mandate is a tax. The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes has a good summary:

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom appeared [Monday] on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd, where he agreed with the host’s assertion that Romney “believes that you should not call the penalty a tax.”

Fehrnstrom explained: “The governor disagreed with the ruling of the Court. He agreed with the dissent written by Justice Scalia, which very clearly stated that the mandate is not a tax.” Later, Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg confirmed that Romney doesn’t consider the mandate a tax, telling ABC News: “Governor Romney thinks it is an unconstitutional penalty.”

It is not all that difficult a) to agree with Scalia — that the correct legal ruling would have been to consider the mandate’s penalty just what Congress called it: a penalty, not a tax — but then b) to point out that the Supreme Court’s ruling makes clear that the mandate is only lawful if it is considered a tax, and that the Obama administration is hypocritically trying to have it both ways by telling the public it’s a “penalty” on “freeloaders” after sending its lawyers to court to argue it’s a “tax.”

The obvious reason the Romney campaign is having so much difficulty following this argument is that it invariably brings the discussion back to Romneycare in Massachusetts. This was the biggest reason some of us felt he was not the best Republican to take on Obama as the party’s nominee.

I feel safe in saying Romney gains nothing by continuing to defend that law. He isn’t going to win Massachusetts. Independents in opinion polls break strongly against Obamacare and are highly unlikely to think to themselves, You know, I don’t like Obamacare but I sure am glad Romney passed a version of it as a governor. It’s a good thing he hasn’t renounced it. Standing by the state health law only hurt him in the primary.

It is an enormous mistake for him to risk pouring cold water on conservatives’ anti-Obamacare zeal.

If he wants to leave it to other people making the argument about Obamacare-as-a-tax, fine. But that’s a far cry from letting high-level campaign staff undermine that argument. And, given that there’s no higher court to which one could appeal last week’s ruling, the Romney campaign can gain nothing from continuing the “it’s not a tax” line.

All indications are that the economy is not going to recover sufficiently or quickly enough by this fall to save Obama. But while the economy is the No. 1 issue for many voters, it’s not the only issue — if it were, there would be no excuse for anyone not named Obama to be trailing in the polls. Romney has to be able to win on the other big issues, including Obamacare. And that requires a better performance on the issue than we’ve seen from his side so far.

Note: Due to the soap-opera shenanigans of a few commenters Monday night, all comments are going through moderation until further notice. Any comment that includes personal attacks or ventures off-topic while the on-topic discussion is still going strong will not be published. Those of you who think anything goes because I need the “hits” do not understand a) what a “hit” is or b) how beyond frustrated with some of you I have become. Be forewarned that the comments you submit, even if they are not published, may affect whether I let some of you back onto the blog ever again.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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127 comments Add your comment

Uh Oh

July 3rd, 2012
11:46 am

Kyle

He must get back on the overall economic message. I wont be voting for Romney, however if he can sell the overall economic message, he has a chance. If not, well you know what the probable outcome will be.

John

July 3rd, 2012
11:47 am

Of course he would say it’s not a tax. If he did, then he would have to admit to raising taxes even thogh he signed the Grover anti-tax pledge stating he would never support tax increasing.

Jefferson

July 3rd, 2012
11:55 am

Romney not only has a rich guy image problem, ACA can make him seem like he doesn’t care about the working poor, which he doesn’t.

JDW

July 3rd, 2012
12:03 pm

@Kyle…”I feel safe in saying Romney gains nothing by continuing to defend that law. ”

Problem with that approach is that Romney has an entire body of written and spoken work that does just that. How he could possibly reconcile that shift with the voters is beyond me. This ruling has him between a rock and a hard place and his only escape is to change the subject.

fair and balanced

July 3rd, 2012
12:03 pm

Kyle- I agree with your article but it is par for the course with Romney who is all over the map on every issue.What I do not understand is that Supreme Court including two liberal justices cut the heart out of Obamacare with the Medicaid reversal. This should be a campaign issue because of the savings of federal dollars and it gives the states further leverage to use medicaid funds as they see fit. The millions of uninsured that Obama promised would be covered at no out of pocket expense have lost out by this part of the decision. Why is this not being talked up as a huge victory for state’s rights, the Republicans and deficit cutters?
Could it be that aside from free emergency room care passed by Reagan the Republicans have no other plan for the uninsured, and the cost of emergency room care will continue to escalate and be paid by those who “have” ? I think that is called socialism in other countries.

ByteMe

July 3rd, 2012
12:04 pm

So is a tax deduction for having a kid a penalty on those who didn’t have one, since they have to make up the difference in order to balance the Federal budget? Or is it really a tax on them for being childless?

Either way, this is a tax on deadbeats who don’t buy insurance and are currently subsidized by the market because of a law Reagan signed years back. I’m good with whatever it gets called. Only tax-phobics worry about the semantics. The public will only care about the outcome once it’s fully implemented.

Mr. Holmes

July 3rd, 2012
12:07 pm

Sorry to hear your readers were being unruly Monday night. Except for that one digression of comparing the, ahem, “merits” of female broadcast journalists, I do try to stay respectful, even when we disagree. Which is always. :)

Are you suggesting that Romney have a come-to-Jesus moment and totally renounce his own gubernatorial creation? Wouldn’t that feed pretty neatly into the predominant narrative of him as history’s biggest (and most transparent) flip-flopper?

Pizzaman

July 3rd, 2012
12:08 pm

Romney has more problems than this. His draft deferment. The jobs shipped overseas. Etc, etc.

And Tiberius, I spent an hour reading all the Republican plans. Some good ideas, but those are already in the ACA. No mention of how they plan to do it without raising taxes.

Rafe Hollister, suffering through Oblamer's ineptocracy

July 3rd, 2012
12:09 pm

Monday night blog wrasslin was it? Glad I was watching the 0-11 Braves lose again.

Romney has been ineffective on Obamacare, Kyle, that is for sure. He can’t bring himself to admit that one of his accomplishments was a brutal failure. He needs to get that out there soon, I made a huge mistake. Then he could explain why he failed and why he will never do that again and how he is going to repeal this stinking pile of government intrusion known as Obamacare.

Yeah, Barry, says we can call it that, “because I do care”. He is right he does care about getting reelected and continuing his destruction of the America he and his wife so obviously do not like.
Is all this about some ole Flag, yeah Michelle, one people died defending.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

July 3rd, 2012
12:09 pm

Fehrnstrom appears to be as incompetent as McCain’s advisers four years ago and should have been gone after his “Etchasketch” comment.

Logical Dude

July 3rd, 2012
12:10 pm

what is the big deal with calling a payment to the government a “penalty” or a “tax”? It’s a payment to the government either way, so calling it what it is (a tax!!!)

Otherwise, the 5-4 ruling says that it’s constitutional, which surprises me, but not really, based on recent rulings that also should have surprised me.

So, Congress, deal with it as a tax and move on to the next step. Sheesh, trying to fight the decision after it’s already been made is silly, so move to the next step, which is improving healthcare and coverage for the whole country in a meaningful way.

southpaw

July 3rd, 2012
12:10 pm

I would love to hear a question something like this during a Presidential debate. “Mr. President, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution does not authorize the Affordable Care Act. Would it then be more accurate to say that the individual mandate is a tax on low-income people who don’t happen to buy health insurance, or that the mandate is unconstitutional, contrary to the Court’s decision?”

td

July 3rd, 2012
12:11 pm

Kyle,

My apologies for getting involved in the battle last night. It is hard sometimes to take the personal attacks from some of these people and I sometimes just have to fire back a little. I did try to keep my comments clean but they were personal in nature.

Now on to the subject at hand. I think that Romney has come to a conclusion that he is going to concentrate on the economy and nothing more. He said he would repeal the law and will allow the congressional races bring up the subject. I believe this is part of the economy and should be addressed more but I see his view. He is taking the Clinton strategy of the 1990 campaign.

Dusty

July 3rd, 2012
12:16 pm

Kyle,

Thanks for the updates on blog rules. That was needed.

As to Romney’s missteps, let’s not pay too much attention to them. They may not be missteps but Democrats love it when someone mentions any Romney “missteps”.

Since I am not into pleasing Democrats at the moment, I’d rather focus on something else, like Romney’s vast experience in matters of the economy. I think we need a business manager more than a pseudo-medical mixer at the moment. Business and Obama are not compatible.

ByteMe

July 3rd, 2012
12:18 pm

Are you suggesting that Romney have a come-to-Jesus moment and totally renounce his own gubernatorial creation? Wouldn’t that feed pretty neatly into the predominant narrative of him as history’s biggest (and most transparent) flip-flopper?

I’m pretty sure many conservatives would need a come-to-Jesus moment where he totally renounces everything in his past including his religion, his entire governoring experience, and his time at Bain starting about 5 minutes after he was put in charge. Basically, the Olympics and “I was a CEO once upon a time” is all he’ll have left. Which is pretty much what he’s trying to do anyway.

JustSayin

July 3rd, 2012
12:24 pm

Newt would have driven Obama into the ground after that decision
- JustSayin

td

July 3rd, 2012
12:30 pm

JustSayin

July 3rd, 2012
12:24 pm

Newt would have driven Obama into the ground after that decision
- JustSayin

Agreed but the real question is does it matter to anyone other then conservatives? Can Romney do more taking the Clinton approach “its the economy stupid” or should he talk about all things conservative?

gadem

July 3rd, 2012
12:34 pm

WOW…I must have missed the sideshow. But on the topic at hand. As you said, it would be hard for Romney to condemn something that he basically had a hand in creating. The issue is whether the voters at large believe that given enough time will the economy recover under President Obama’s watch or whether it is prudent to change course in midstream and start going in another direction. I believe that if we stuck with President Bush for 8 years, that we should stick with Obama for 8 years.

ByteMe

July 3rd, 2012
12:36 pm

Newt would have driven Obama into the ground after that decision

Newt? The guy who backed the individual mandate back in 1994?

Yeah, that would have worked out well.

Tiberius - Banned from Bookman's and proud of it!

July 3rd, 2012
12:37 pm

First of all, Eric Fehrnstrom should be either muzzled or fired for his comments.

Next, this issue needs to go on the appropriate back-burner, to be dealt with only when questions are asked of Romney. It’s not a big enough campaign issue and takes him off-message every time regarding his better economic message. It will also give the campaign time to craft an appropriate message that makes more sense than what they have been spewing – especially in time for the debates.

He needs to use this issue as a one-liner or so in each speech and e-mail to the people who are listening to him, but that’s it. Once people find out about the decision (Fox News said that a recent poll showed 41% of those asked hadn’t heard about the decision yet), the true numbers of support or agreement will come out.

DawgDad

July 3rd, 2012
12:38 pm

Of course, a lot of the RINOS support Obamacare, whether they admit it publicly or not. Romney will draw support from most conservatives because they have no where else to turn. In terms of trust – he hasn’t earned it.

Not a lot to celebrate on the 4th, unless you like wakes.

jconservative

July 3rd, 2012
12:39 pm

Romney is caught in his own trap. If Obama’s mandate is a tax, then Romney’s mandate in Massachusetts is a tax. And he says he did not raise taxes while governor of Massachusetts.

Romney needs to drop Obamacare as an issue.

Romney needs to hire James Carville – “It’s the economy s…….!”

Dusty

July 3rd, 2012
12:41 pm

ByteMe 12:18

You have a wide liberal imagination. Romney has so much good experience, he doesn’t have to have some major “revelation”. He hasn’t renounced anything that I have heard about. He is a man of character and doesn’t go around sobbing about this or that to please someone.

Just because Democrats do not believe in being successful in business (like Romney) or experienced in governship (like Romney) or having a guiding faith (like Romney)or planning and presenting large projects (like Romney’s Olympic experience) they think an inexperienced, non-business, health meddler, debt blind afflicted, is ideal for the USA.

Let’s hope that we, the USA, have a new dawning without another four dark and devastating years of being led by a self-aggrandizing incompetent president..

jconservative

July 3rd, 2012
12:42 pm

Kyle,

Your restatement of the rules is welcome.

People need to address the issue not each other.

Thanks.

stands for decibels

July 3rd, 2012
12:43 pm

But on the topic at hand. As you said, it would be hard for Romney to condemn something that he basically had a hand in creating.

Perhaps, but I think Kyle’s advice is the only smart path for Romney to follow. He has to be able to own his position(s) on his own signature state legislation; he will be too easy a target for Obama, both in ads and in the debates, this summer, otherwise.

(and no, I’m not rooting for Romney, as most here who know of me already know–I’m just trying to figure the odds on this horse race.)

snoqualmiefalls

July 3rd, 2012
12:50 pm

So lets review Mittens comments when, as governor of Mass.on the day he signed the health care law in his state. If the Dems are smart they will run with what he said accompanying with quotes from Fehrnstrom,s Sunday comments… then lets us all watch as he attempts to waffle out of this one… I got the popcorn and scotch out y’all should too.

Hillbilly D

July 3rd, 2012
12:51 pm

Judging by the two campaigns, I wonder if either side really wants to win this election.

Kamchak ~ Thug from the Steppes

July 3rd, 2012
12:51 pm

…and continuing his destruction of the America he and his wife so obviously do not like.

Completely ignoring Reagan’s the government is the problem meme, Norquist’s desire to drown it in the bathtub.

People that work in local, state and federal govts. are our fellow citizens and deserve the respect that anyone gets when doing a job, providing for a family, paying bills….

saywhat?

July 3rd, 2012
12:53 pm

Any campaign missteps on this issue in relation to the SC decision are mimiscule in importance to the point of being meaningless when viewed against the whole massive flip flop from Romneycare vs ACA. It really doesn’t matter how Romney spins it, or how competently his campaign does or doesn’t spin it. I also agree with byte me that the semantics over the issue are also meaningless. I don’t care what it is called, whether a fee, penalty or tax. Republicans just want to call it a tax to score political points, but Obama never ran on a “no new taxes” pledge. Those who are the most anti-tax are the same people who were knee-jerk anti-”anything Obama” anyway.

md

July 3rd, 2012
12:53 pm

Romney needs to break down the actual costs associated with the bill vs allowing the left to frame the “penalty” as the only tax…….which is not the case.

He needs to take the average middle class person and let them know how the changes to the FSA, HSA, and other such changes will affect them, along with how they will be paying the bulk of the other taxes in the bill. If people actually think the insurance providers pay a tax, then we deserve what we get due to the complete ignorance of the American public…………

md

July 3rd, 2012
12:55 pm

“He has to be able to own his position(s) on his own signature state legislation”

And he does that by continuously pointing out the operative word of “state”…..

Uh Oh

July 3rd, 2012
12:58 pm

HillBilly D @ 12:51

Some days it appears we have the choice of Tweedledee or Tweedledum

stands for decibels

July 3rd, 2012
1:00 pm

I wonder if either side really wants to win this election.

hmm. Define “really”.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

July 3rd, 2012
1:05 pm

It’s not important whether it’s a tax or not. It matters that we now have government-run health care. The government does very little well, other than kill people and break things, skills that are not of much use in our health care.

I demand to see Cheesy Grits Birth Certificate- Long Form Please

July 3rd, 2012
1:06 pm

NO MORE FREE RIDES !!!

Deadbeats and Freeloaders you are on notice.

There is a new Sheriff in town. Sheriff Obama.

The days of passing your healthcare on to other is OVER !!!

You will have to be responsible for YOURSELF and pay for YOURSELF !!!

If not you face a penalty.

“I agree that all of us have a responsibility to pay–help pay for health care. And, and I think that there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy. I’ve said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond,”

- Newt Gingrich

I demand to see Cheesy Grits Birth Certificate- Long Form Please

July 3rd, 2012
1:08 pm

It matters that we now have government-run health care.

Ever hear of Medicare and Medicaid.

We have had Government healthcare for a long time.

I’m fine with repealing Universal Healthcare.

The second the Tea Party white hairs give up their Medicare.

Guess what.. They wont.

Fred ™

July 3rd, 2012
1:10 pm

Hillbilly D

July 3rd, 2012
12:51 pm

Judging by the two campaigns, I wonder if either side really wants to win this election.
+++++++++++++++++++++

No crap eh? Reminds me when W was so vulnerable and the Democrats searched the world over to find an even bigger dummy (John sKerry) to run against him.

We have Dumb and dumber running for president with the most incompetent Congress in the history of our nation to screw which ever dummy wins lol.

Hillbilly D

July 3rd, 2012
1:12 pm

hmm. Define “really”.

So far, to me it looks about the same as if it was Michael Dukakis against John McCain.

getalife

July 3rd, 2012
1:13 pm

A tax or a penalty?

It does not matter.

It passed is what matters.

The Fresh Prince of Bill Ayers

July 3rd, 2012
1:16 pm

Romney is a business man and obviously an upright and moral man. If not, Axelrod and thugs would have outed him a long time ago. He’s not a politician, and unfortunately most people base their voting decisions on commercials. Obama will get re-elected as he’s not afraid of lying.

oh nosies

July 3rd, 2012
1:16 pm

Romney should have known there would be a reckoning of his many positions sooner than later. He has contorted himself into a pretzel playing to the cheap seats then etcha sketching like a mime into a new position. My money says he’ll damage a ligament and limp badly to the finish.

getalife

July 3rd, 2012
1:17 pm

If this bill fails to control costs, there is only one option left.

Uh Oh

July 3rd, 2012
1:18 pm

Kyle

I noticed on real clear politics after the court decision that by Friday Obama had received a slight bump in the polls when looking at the averages, but that is now back down to where it was before the decision.

We will see if the trend continues. My opinion. If Romney does not knoc out Obama in 2 of 3 debates he is in deep poo poo. When I say knock out I mean that most commentators and columnists agree to a certain extent that Romney won, not just Rush, Hannity, Boortz saying he won or Maddow, Olberman saying he lost.

oh nosies

July 3rd, 2012
1:20 pm

lil: “The government does very little well, other than kill people and break things, skills that are not of much use in our health care.”

Guess that’s why gov-run healthcare has held increases in medical care to a minimum compared with for-profit insurance companies.

ragnar danneskjold

July 3rd, 2012
1:21 pm

I hope Eric Fehrnstrom is not typical of the types of appointments we can anticipate from President Romney. So long as he continues to affirm an intention to seek and sign a repeal of the law, I have no quibble with Mr. Romney. I would wish Mr. Romney to keep a focus on the economy, and if he wishes to note the adverse economic effects of ObamaCare, that would be consistent with my wishes.

While I think the court – meaning CJ Roberts – generally erred as a matter of law in the recent ObamaCare ruling, I am constrained to observe that there is no meaningful economic difference between an unfunded mandate (or any other economic regulation) vs a tax combined with spending laws. Both have a negative effect on the economy, as they supplant free market choices with the preferences of overlords. ObamaCare is the single largest constraint on hiring the country faces in the current depression.

oh nosies

July 3rd, 2012
1:21 pm

healthcare should have read medicare, sorry

Normal Free...Pro Human Rights Thug...And liking it!

July 3rd, 2012
1:25 pm

Mitt Romney has sold his soul to Satan to try to get elected president of the United States. He will do anything, say anything and be anyone to get your vote. here is a man that has put himself into such a corner as to have to bad mouth his own health care program, just to make the grade in his Party. A program, I might add, that has been very successful in Massachusetts. He should be running on the strengths of his program, but…he can’t, because he has become the human pretzel. Is this really a man you would want to be President? Come on…

and always remember…”Good manners, y’all…don’t leave home without them…”

ragnar danneskjold

July 3rd, 2012
1:27 pm

Funny, semi-related issue, Drudge posts a link to a Gallup poll that affirms that only 6% think healthcare is the single most important issue facing the country. Assume that means the leftists think ObamaCare cured everything, even though it does not kick in full bore until 2014.

“The economy (at 31 percent), jobs (25 percent), dissatisfaction with government (12 percent) and the federal budget deficit (11 percent) were all mentioned in front of health care.”

Don’t know why they distinguished “the economy” from “jobs” – combined they total 56%. How much of that distress – including the “federal budget deficit,” prospectively – is attributable to the looming ObamaCare?

ragnar danneskjold

July 3rd, 2012
1:30 pm

Dear Lil-Barry @ 1:05, ha, I have previously argued that those “inherent strengths of government” were the main reason the leftists were pushing for a government takeover of the industry. Part of the “death cult.”

JohnnyReb

July 3rd, 2012
1:32 pm

Kyle – your piece could not be more correct. I posted at Jay’s earlier this morning that Romney’s staff making the etch-a-sketch and now Obamacare tax comments wer unfortunate but were not made by Romney. Now, you confirm Romney backed up the Obamacare tax comment. Very discouraging.

Couple the tax misstep with not defending adequately the accusation of shipping jobs overseas, and clearly Romney and crew need to wake up. They are not running against Jimmy Carter. Carter was completely ineffective but was and is a nice guy who means well. Obama on the otherhand has hidden agendas and is the Chicago political machine who lies as much as tells the truth.

It’s OK for Romney to bad mouth Obama, but that only take him so far. He has to voice his plan for replacing Obamacare. He has to voice his plan for fixing illegal immigration. He also needs to speak of the huge contrast in almost all areas with Obama – big government, big taxes, the nanny state, etc.

The base will vote for Romney regardless. However, there are large numbers who need to be steered away from Obama. Romney must find his voice.