Mitt Romney Reverses His Own Campaign, Says Mandate Is A Tax

Yesterday in an interview with CBS News, Mitt Romney backtracked on the comments that his campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom had made earlier in the week and said that the individual mandate was indeed a tax:

(CBS News) Two days after his top adviser insisted otherwise, Mitt Romney on Wednesday told CBS News Chief Political Correspondent Jan Crawford that President Obama’s individual mandate upheld last week by the Supreme Court is “a tax.”

“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,” the presumptive GOP presidential nominee told Crawford in an exclusive interview, referring to the court’s 5-4 ruling that largely upheld the president’s signature health care law, with the individual mandate as a tax.

“I said that I agreed with the dissent, and the dissent made it very clear that they felt it was unconstitutional,” Romney continued. “But the dissent lost – it’s in the minority.”

The individual mandate is uniquely problematic for Romney, whose health care legislation as Massachusetts governor also included a mandate. But as an anti-tax increase candidate, Romney has relied on the argument that at the state level, governors can tax on mandate under “police powers” – a fact that Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts noted in his opinion.


“You can try and say you wish [the court] had decided a different way, but they didn’t,” Romney said. “They concluded it was a tax; that’s what it is. And the American people know that President Obama has broken the pledge he made. He said he wouldn’t raise taxes on middle-income Americans, and not only did he raise the $500 billion that was already in the bill, it’s now clear that his mandate, as described by the Supreme Court, is a tax.”

Here’s the video:

Romney’s campaign had received a lot of negative feedback from Congressional Republicans and conservative pundits after Fehrnstrom’s comments on Monday, largely because they completely undercut the argument that the GOP had been making since the Court’s decision had come down that, since the mandate was a “tax,” that Obama had raised taxes on the middle class despite his promise not to do so. It’s not really that great an argument for several reasons, of course, and the assertion that some Republicans have made that the PPACA constitutes the biggest tax increase in history is, as I noted earlier this week, simply false. It was inevitable, though, that the Romney campaign would get in line, especially after the reports on Tuesday that the campaign wanted to move beyond health care and refocus on the economy, reports which the campaign was forced to explicitly deny.

This all suggests were in for another ObamaCare push from the campaign, which doesn’t really strike me as a smart strategy. They ought to be talking about the economy, especially depending on what comes from the Labor Department in tomorrow’s jobs report.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    Even the WSJ is taking Romney to task on this.
    My guess is that according to Mitt… in MA it wasn’t a tax…but the PPACA is.
    Seems to me if you are reduced to whining about a tax that might affect 1% of the Nation…your argument is pretty damn thin.
    But this is the best the Republicans have to offer…so on to November!!!

  2. C. Clavin says:

    @C. Calvin….
    Especially when you consider that 10% of the Nation are free-riders imposing a de facto tax of nearly $1000 on the rest of us.
    If conservatives were being honest they would be for this. That’s why they proposed it in the first place. It’s why Romney passed it in MA.
    I guess they got confused about which 1% was affected.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    @ C. Clavin…
    It’s also interesting to note that the Governors making the most noise about the Medicaid portion of the PPACA are the Governors with the largest rates of un-insured and thus the greatest de facto taxes on those who are insured.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    @ C. Clavin…

    “…Actually the chief justice in his opinion made it very clear that at the state level, states have the power to put in place mandates,” Romney replied. “They don’t need to require them to be called taxes in order for them to be constitutional. And as a result, Massachusetts’ mandate was a mandate, was a penalty, was described that way by the legislature and by me, and so it stays as it was…”

    This is the semantic problem you get into when you are attacking your opponent for something you yourself did.
    Worst. Campaign. Ever.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Well, certainly the election is about the stupidity, economy, and Team Romney is not so dumb not to realize that.

    That said, however, let’s not be so naive as to think Romney simply would be able to ignore the whole Obamacare thing. It will come up. Romney will be grilled about it. All the way up through Election Day. The mass media will attempt to tie Romneycare around his neck. For reasons so blindingly obvious even Heller Keller could see them.

    So at a certain point Romney had to determine what to say. Not only in the semantic sense but in the tactical and strategic senses too. It appears now he’s cooked that dish and of course now he’ll need to dine on it, for better or for worse.

  6. Moosebreath says:

    “It was inevitable, though, that the Romney campaign would get in line, especially after the reports on Tuesday that the campaign wanted to move beyond health care and refocus on the economy, reports which the campaign was forced to explicitly deny.”

    It’s also inevitable in light of Romney being scared of alienating the Republican base on anything. If Romney cannot stand up to Rush Limbaugh and David Koch, can anyone expect him to do better when faced with a real crisis involving a foreign leader?

  7. DRS says:

    This guy can’t even stand up to Donald Trump.

  8. Moosebreath says:

    Jon Chait approaches my point from the other end, suggesting that the Republican base’s pressure is due to a misreading of the general electorate, viewing their views as universal (“Remember, as late as 2010, Romney was praising Obama’s decision to include an individual mandate in his health-care law. Then Republicans decided it was unconstitutional, and since then have concluded it is the only thing worse than unconstitutional: a tax. So Republicans insisted that Romney not undercut them and concur that it is indeed a tax. So he did.”).

    The problem is that the Republican base’s view simply is not correct, and Romney knows it. Too bad he doesn’t have the cojones to have a Sister Souljah moment and maximize his chances for getting elected. Instead, he weakly gives in to the base, even though he knows it hurts his chances of winning.