Mitt Romney has been known for some convoluted, contradictory, and downright confounding positions on the issues, but even by his standards, his position on health care is a mess.
Romney's original position was that the individual mandate he imposed through his state-based reform law was a "tax penalty," which he strongly favored. This week, however, the Republican's campaign switched gears, saying the policy is a "penalty," but not a "tax."
Yesterday, in an interview with CBS News, Romney rejected his own campaign's policy position, saying the mandate is a "tax" after all.
As if this weren't quite enough, in a remarkable feat of political jujitsu, the Republican now believes it's a tax when President Obama does it, but the identical policy is not a tax when Mitt Romney does it.
Indeed, even though he's already called his own penalty a tax, Romney added, "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." Why? Because he says so.
Making matters slightly worse, the GOP presidential hopeful justifies this by citing a Supreme Court ruling he thinks is wrong -- except on one narrow point, when he supports the decision he opposes.
Remember, Americans are supposed to be able to take this guy seriously on health care policy.
Ezra makes a compelling case today that Romney's ridiculous rhetorical gymnastics really don't matter, since this is ultimately a semantics debate anyway. It's a fair point, but there are a couple of angles to this with some political salience.
For one thing, we have another example of the GOP base, furious with Romney, forcing the candidate to reject his own rhetoric and policy background, basically just to make the activist wing happy. That Romney is trying to execute a rare flip-flop-flip doesn't seem to matter -- conservatives wanted the campaign to call the policy a "tax," not a "penalty," so the pro-mandate, pro-tax penalty former governor is doing as he's told to do.
It's not exactly a display that screams "strength."
For another, this continues to be a farcical Republican game. Why in the world should this foolish semantics fight matter to anyone? Because for the next four months, GOP attack ads want to make two contradictory points at the same time: (1) Obama raised middle class taxes when he approved this penalty; and (2) Romney didn't raise middle class taxes when he approved the identical penalty.
It's what led Romney to twist himself in a pretzel yesterday.