It now seems that all the suggestions by former Republican White House wannabies Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich during the campaign, the criticism from conservative talk show hosts and some of the cynicism displayed at Fox News were correct: the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney is proving to be a political jellyfish on a key issue GOPers feel can help them. His campaign is apparently calling — at the very least — a cease fire in use of the health care issue:[Fomney’s] senior adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, went on
MSNBC Monday and ended up agreeing with the Obama campaign’s spin that, even though the Supreme Court declared the individual mandate a tax, it really still is a penalty. Significantly, his campaign appears to want to take the most potent argument against the president on the health care subject off the table, likely out of fear the Romney himself is vulnerable when it comes to his health care record. He, after all, supported a mandate as governor of Massachusetts, and doesn’t want that to be considered a tax, either.
For an issue that’s supposedly potent against Democrats, Romney’s campaign is declaring a cease fire. This, even as the law polls unfavorably and it proved to be a motivating force for Republicans and disaffected independents in the 2010 midterms.
It’s becoming clear that Romney has decided to focus on the economy at the expense of everything else, even issues that could play to his political benefit. He’s avoided criticizing the administration’s handling of the botched Fast and Furious operation, even as it threatens to become a serious vulnerability for the president. He’s been silent in responding to Obama’s immigration executive order, not wanting to offend receptive Hispanics or appear like a flip-flopper. He appears more likely to tap a safe, bland running mate like Ohio Sen. Rob Portman or former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty who won’t do him any harm but won’t benefit him much either. If the economy continues to sputter, that safe strategy might be enough. If not, his options are limited.
Is history repeating itself? If there is a parallel right now, it seems to be that Romney is emulating the late New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey who was outmanuevered and ran a bland campaign against then President Harry Truman in the famous 1948 Presidential election when Truman was “sure” to lose.
Romney’s nothingburger on immigration and restrained response to the ACA ruling make sense with respect to the swing voters. But his fundamental problem, so to speak, is the gulf between them and the base who reluctantly nominated him. The Romney team’s decision to accept that the mandate is a penalty rather than a tax is yet another moment of excruciating positioning: because it’s obvious why Rmoney won’t call it a tax. It would mean he’d raised taxes in Massachusetts, in pioneering Obamacare on a state level.
He’s pinioned by his nothingness. At some point a candidate of so many contradictions understands he just has to be silent to get through to November. His entire candidacy rests on the notion that anti-incumbency in a depressed economy is enough. It may be. But if that’s the campaign, and he loses, the right will go bananas. Yep: even more bananas. That’s one reason I preferred Santorum. A failed, bland, hollow campaign from Romney would settle none of the core issues behind the Republican crisis.
Some conservatives are not pleased. Joel Pollack at Breitbart.com:
The GOP primary is over, and this is not a mistake that Fehrnstrom can merely shake away. It’s going to be used–and already is being used–by the Obama campaign to save itself from the tax argument, and to label Romney as a liar (when that label belongs squarely on Obama, who campaigned against Hillary Clinton’s individual mandate in 2008). Perhaps this is why Rupert Murdoch has been calling openly for Romney to “drop…old friends from [his] team and hire…some real pros,” as he did on Twitter yesterday.
The Tea Party has been ready to rally to Romney’s side over the Obamacare decision, overlooking his past in order to use him as the vehicle for repealing Obamacare and toppling Obama. But if Romney won’t fight for conservative principles, the Tea Party is going to start looking elsewhere–fast. No one wants to live through the frustration of October 2008 all over again. No one wants to watch another conservative capitulate to Obama.
This ain’t Etch-A-Sketch, Mitt. Go hard or go home.
In numerous posts going back to 2009, I’ve suggested that a Romney nomination by the GOP is equivalent to unilateral disarmament due to the fact that one of our most potent weapons, Obamacare and its unpopular mandate, will be removed from campaign debate since Mitt and his cronies in Massachusetts essentially designed the plan…
….So now it’s July, and Republicans were indeed insane enough to hand Mandate Mitt the nomination. The Supreme Court just gave him a golden issue on a silver platter. But he can’t use it. This issue has been effectively eliminated as an issue for Team Mitt, as I predicted it would be, because he has no credibility in this area. And now, after yesterday’s tortured performance by Eric Fehrnstrom, his campaign has come to this realization.
….remain skeptical for a couple of additional reasons, too. First, his decision to ignore the issue raises a huge question: If he somehow manages to win, how will he be able to claim an electoral mandate to repeal Obamacare if he refuses to engage Obama on the issue during the campaign? Second, let’s not forget that Romney hired a man to head his transition who stands to make a lot of money if Obamacare is implemented as is. Where will that leave all of us barbarians who’ll be forced to live with third world quality government health care for the rest of our lives?
Strategically, I don’t blame Romney for wanting to ignore Obamacare. As yesterday’s spectacle by Fehrnstrom makes clear, any time Team Mitt brings up Obamacare in general, or government mandates in particular, they can’t help but confirm Romney’s well-deserved reputation as an opportunistic flip-flopper. Lefty Joan Walsh, of all people, adroitly captured the Mittster’s dilemma today (even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, I guess):
Some conservatives have blasted Fehrnstrom for saying that Romney agrees with Obama that the penalty is not a tax (considering that characterizing it as one could be bad for Obama). They’ve even called for his firing. But they should take a step back and think about that. The controversy is not that the penalty is a tax or not. Remember, less than a week ago conservatives were outraged that John Roberts had to do mental gymnastics to justify Obamacare as such. The controversy is this: Obama said it wasn’t a tax; when it became politically expedient he had his solicitor general say it was; and now he‘s saying it isn’t.
So it should be no big deal that Fehrnstrom and thus Romney think it’s not a tax (they’re siding against John Roberts by doing so). Many people think it’s not, including Obama and four conservative Supreme Court justices.
But now that the Court has ruled it is, conservatives want to rub it in Obama’s face. But don’t confuse the technical argument (it’s a tax) with the original and likely correct one (that it’s not). Romney can still capitalize off the ruling by pointing out Obama’s inconsistency and that the only way to get it through was to say it is a tax, but that doesn’t mean he has to accept that 2+2=5.
The bottom line is that there are signs that a)Romney is trying to move to the center b)conservatives are not getting the candidate they thought they would be getting but increasingly see they’re getting the candidate they feared they’d get.
UPDATED: The Romney campaign — facing a mini-firestorm — has moved swiftly to shoot down the National Journal report. It’s unlikely this report in the Washington Examiner will snuff out the fires, since the National Journal is not considered a wild news organization that simply invents political stories:
So is the Romney campaign, in fact, declaring a “cease-fire” on Obamacare? No, no, no, says Romney spokesman Ryan Williams. “From our perspective, Obamacare has been and will continue to be a central issue in the campaign,” says Williams. “It presents voters with a bright line that divides the two candidates. Gov. Romney is going to repeal Obamacare and President Obama is going to keep it. There is a clear choice in November.”
“It is something that [Romney] has been discussing on the campaign trail for the past year and that he will continue to discuss,” Williams adds. “It is bad law, it is bad policy, and it’s something that Gov. Romney is going to address on his first day in office. His commitment to repealing Obamacare is as strong as it was on the day Congress jammed it down the throat of the American public.”
Williams says Romney agrees with the conservative dissent — signed jointly by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito — which declares Obamacare an unconstitutional federal mandate. Williams notes that Romney made a public statement, shortly after the Supreme Court decision was announced, pledging his continued determination to repeal the health care law. In addition, Romney’s “Day One” commercials, which prominently feature the promise to repeal Obamacare, are still playing in several states. The campaign also released a web ad after the Supreme Court decision, promising to keep up the Obamacare fight. It also made regular announcements on the amount of money the campaign raised from supporters who oppose the Supreme Court ruling. And Romney’s campaign website, MittRomney.com, is filled with emphatic promises to repeal Obamacare.
All in all, it’s hard to characterize as a “cease-fire.”
Some of the “cease-fire” speculation focuses on Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom’s statement Monday that Romney “disagrees with the Court’s ruling that the mandate was a tax.” Democrats and some of their allies in the press have jumped on those words, suggesting they indicate Romney agrees with President Obama on the question. But the Romney campaign has said clearly that Romney sides with the Court’s conservative dissenters and believes Obamacare is unconstitutional. How that puts him in agreement with the president is hard to fathom. Nor does it suggest that Romney will back off his promise to get rid of Obamacare.
The proof will be now in:
–How aggressively Romney presses the health care issue.
–Whether Romney can find a way to defuse the major disconnect between Congressional GOPERs and the party’s all important talk show radio political culture wing on the mandate being a tax, when his rep has insisted he and Romney firmly believe it is not.
–Whether Romney, in the way he presses the attack, seems able to use the issue as well as another Republican or whether in the end — despite the answer to the National Journal article — the issue fizzles due to a lack of will or ability of Romney to press the issue.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.