One would think this would have been a quiet week given the holiday. Romney essentially took the week off, doing the "Romney Olympics" at the family compound on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.
But there was news indeed.
The dominant theme of the week was the "is it a tax or a penalty?" flap. This has the makings of a tough story for Obama – and may still become one – but the early round was trouble for Romney yet again. He can't seem to find a good toehold on health care. The basic issue is that the Roberts court (actually, Roberts himself) allowed ObamaCare to stand because the mandate was constitutional under tax hprovisions (not the Commerce Clause, as argued by the administration). While this allowed ObamaCare to stand, it handed the Republicans a juicy campaign handle, and immediately the right started attacking ObamaCare as a "tax," saying that Obama had misled the American public when he said there would be no new taxes on anyone who made less than $250K.
The problem was that Romney, virtually alone among Republicans, did not go along with the "tax" attack, and in fact agreed with Obama that the mandate was rather a "penaltly." And he did this for an obvious reason: if Obama is a taxer, then so is Romney by virtue of his Massachusetts law. He kept this line up for several days but then did a fine reverse flip (perhaps his strongest Romney Olympics event?) and said it was a tax after all.
He then attempted to distinguish the federal mandate as a "tax" versus the Massachusetts mandate as a "penalty" with this priceless paragraph: "At the state level, states have the power to put in place mandates. 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."
(Of course, the official Massachusetts website dealing with the law describes it as a "tax penalty." Oops!)
Anyway, as I said, Romney still has time to get his story right, and perhaps overcome the flip-flopper problem and get a coherent tax attack out. But the events of the week underscore exactly how uncomfortable and vulnerable he is on this issue, which is perhaps the main reason, at this point, that the right still distrusts him.
Romney did raise over $100 million last month, which is a huge number. Obama has not yet announced his June totals.
But Romney also is getting critiqued from the right on his campaign thus far. Rupert Murdoch, among others, is calling him out for being too cautious, and urging that he fire his staff.
The best news for Romney came earlier this morning: another tepid job report, with only 80,000 new jobs added and the unemployment rate sticking at 8.2%. Obama's winning streak – gay marriage, immigration, health care – has served him well, deflecting attention away from the key election issue, the economy. Look for Romney to step up his attacks on Obama's economic stewardship as he continues to seek, though often in vain, to keep the news cycle focused there.
One last personal note: I just finished Robert Caro's "The Passage of Power," the fourth volume (out of five planned) in his "The Years of Lyndon Johnson" series. This series in sum is among my top ten books/series of all time, and this volume (for which I've been waiting for TEN years!) in particular is stunning. Most of the book covers the 47 days between the JFK assassination and LBJ's State of the Union address, and how Johnson managed the transition, keeping the Kennedy team on board and winning the confidence of the nation (and the world), all while effecting landmark legislation at a time when congressional gridlock was, if anything, worse than it is now. (The Kennedy team did not know how to break it, and did not even ask LBJ -- the "Master of the Senate" -- for advice. He knew.) Fascinating on all fronts. I highly recommend it, even if you have not read the other volumes. Very readable and full of new insights and revelations; even the assassination itself, covered countless times, gets a fresh treatment as told from LBJ's point of view.