I’m on record saying Washington Republicans erred by glomming on to the Supreme Court’s ACA ruling to attack President Obama for secretly raising taxes. Not that the RNC and congressional Republicans didn’t have their own good reasons. Obviously they did. But that on the whole it would’ve made sense to defer to the Romney camp’s original view that the mandate is a penalty — not a tax — that the Court should have struck down.
Well we know how the story ended.
Romney folded in a predictably clumsy way, and now incredulous reporters are pressing Romney surrogates on the notion that his Massachusetts mandate was also a hidden onerous middle class tax.
This episode is uniquely awkward for the GOP because Romney happens to be the only person in the United States other than President Obama to have signed an individual insurance mandate into law. But the way it all played out points to a bigger problem the Republican Party keeps presenting him.
It seems to me that every time something other than the economy dominates the headlines, the Romney camp, smartly, tries to steer the conversation back to the economy. It’s his best hope for the election. That was a particularly urgent imperative last week, when the Court ruling was the news, they’d just handed Obama a key victory, and uncomfortable comparisons to Romneycare were only a followup story away. Solution? Wave it off, pledge allegiance to the dissenters, talk about the economy again.
But instead GOP leaders in Washington wanted to turn the story around on Obama and Washington Democrats. They saw a shiny object chased after it, and ran roughshod over Romney along the way.
This seems to happen over and over again. The Obama campaign has been deft at keeping other major stories in the news — from student loans to women’s rights to tax equity to immigration and on and on. It’s all perfect bait for movement conservatives and House and Senate members, and each time they take it you can practically hear the cries of frustration from Boston. Inevitably Republicans find themselves talking about something other than the economy, and forcing the party to re-air all of the primary-season crazy they hope voters never see.
Yet in the end, it’s mouthpieces for professional conservatives in Washington who complain that Romney’s folks are the amateurs. The view from inside the bubble must be lovely.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.