When I originally wrote my column for today’s print edition on the political implications of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the mandate as a constitutional exercise of Congress’s taxing power, the Romney campaign’s public position was that the mandate was a penalty. Between the time of my deadline and the time the column went to press, however, Mitt Romney reversed his campaign’s position and said on CBS that the federal mandate was, in fact, a tax. At the same time, he strained to argue that the mandate he signed in Massachusetts was not a tax. The Wall Street Journal is out today with an editorial blasting Romney for running a terrible campaign. But what’s happening isn’t the campaign’s fault. No matter how brilliant the campaign staff is, they can’t change the fact that Romney championed and signed a health care law in Massachusetts that was remarkably similar to President Obama’s national health care law.
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.