Team Romney's seeming flip-flop on whether the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is a tax doesn't matter, argued Michael Steele. No one cares, he says, because they're too busy enjoying the summer. Steele made the argument on Thursday's Hardball when guest host Michael Smerconish asked him what people at the beach think about the latest brush up.
"Nothing!" Steel said. "They're at the beach, which should put it all in perspective. In the 4th of July holiday, this is not something the American people are focused on. This gives, I believe, the Romney team a window between now and the convention to tighten the messaging up here."
A firestorm was ignited this week after Romney's top adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, told msnbc's Chuck Todd that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate constituted a penalty, rather than a tax as other Republicans have described it. The argument is problematic for Romney, because the health care reform he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts contained the same mandate.
Romney, contradicting Ferhnstrom's remarks two days later, argued that his version of the mandate wasn't a tax, but President Obama's was. Steele backed Romney's distinction, but acknowledged Romney did need to make the argument more "clear and concise" to the public.
"If it looks like a tax, walks like a tax and is administered like a tax, the distinction is going to seem terribly artificial," said Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, replying to Steele. He took the position that the timing of the controversy did matter.
"I actually think the summer is a very critical, important period when candidates get defined," he said. "I think right now Romney is getting defined, whether it's outsourcing stuff, whether it's his off shore accounts, whether it's Bain, immigration reform, health care—he's getting defined in a way that's not going to help him and he's actually going to have to climb out of a hole by the time he gets to the convention if this keeps up."