A no good, horrible, very bad week for Mitt Romney and his campaign.

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There is no way around it. This has been a no good, horrible, very bad week for Mitt Romney and his campaign. Mitt has struggled to clarify his position on the freeloader penalty in the Affordable Care Act and Republicans in Washington showed no interest in helping him out. All of this confusion and mixed messaging over a provision Mitt instituted in Massachusetts when he was Governor.

Then Vanity Fair put out an article calling into question Romney’s offshore accounts and whether or not those accounts allowed him to avoid paying his fair share in taxes. On top of all that, an “all-star cast” of establishment GOP thinking – the Wall Street Journal editorial board, Rupert Murdoch, Jack Welch and the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol – called Mitt Romney out on running a campaign that is lacking in substance and direction.

Check out the round up below of coverage of Mitt’s rough week.

Murdoch’s Digs at Romney Underscore Persistent Strains
New York Times // Jeremy W Peters

To hear Rupert Murdoch tell it lately, Mitt Romney lacks stomach and heart. He “seems to play everything safe.” And he is not nearly as tough as he needs to be on President Obama. Mr. Murdoch’s thoughts on the Republican presidential candidate’s prospects? “Doubtful,” he tapped out in a Twitter message from his iPad last weekend. What would he do differently with the campaign? Fire the staff.  Then, on Thursday, Mr. Murdoch’s flagship newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, published a blistering editorial criticizing Mr. Romney’s campaign, accusing it of being hapless and looking “confused in addition to being politically dumb.”

Does Mitt Romney have a staff problem?
Washington Post // Chris Cillizza
Talk of a shakeup in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is running rampant, with the expectation within the Republican political class that the former Massachusetts governor will add seasoned hands rather than part ways with any of his current senior staffers. At the heart of the critique of the Romney campaign, which began with a tweet from News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and has continued with a stinging Wall Street Journal op-ed and harsh words for the campaign from the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol today, is the idea that the presidential candidate’s staff may not be up to the task of running the sort of race it will take to beat President Obama. “The campaign needs to show the GOP elite world and the media a lot of competence going forward or this shake-up talk will only get louder and continue,” predicted one Republican adviser watching from the sidelines.

Conservative griping about Mitt Romney grows
Politico // Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman

The Romney campaign is grappling with an unexpected swell of Republican complaints about the former Massachusetts governor’s political operation, at least temporarily disrupting the legendarily disciplined message of the presumptive GOP nominee. What began over the weekend with a few stray tweets from Fox News media baron Rupert Murdoch has grown into a larger chorus of criticism from the right over the deftness (or lack thereof) of Romney’s team. On Thursday, Romney’s team put out word of a massive $100 million fundraising haul – but their skill in attracting donors has done little to tamp down long-standing concerns within the GOP about the insularity and rigidness of the Romney camp. Those gripes are now being aired in public, as center-right staples from the Wall Street Journal editorial page to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham lament what they view as an uninspired, passive campaign.

Kristol lashes Romney: Run a race
Politico // Maggie Haberman
Add William Kristol to the growing list of prominent voices telling Mitt Romney he’s doing it wrong, in his newest Weekly Standard piece: Remember Michael Dukakis (1988) and John Kerry (2004)? It’s possible to lose a winnable presidential election to a vulnerable incumbent in the White House (or in the case of 1988, a sitting vice president). So, speaking of losing candidates from Massachusetts: Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he’s running Adopting a prevent defense when it’s only the second quarter and you’re not even ahead is dubious enough as a strategy. But his campaign’s monomaniacal belief that it’s about the economy and only the economy, and that they need to keep telling us stupid voters that it’s only about the economy, has gone from being an annoying tick to a dangerous self-delusion…

Why Is Mitt Romney Running on His Biography?
The Atlantic // Elspeth Reeve
Conservatives have complained for months that Mitt Romney’s campaign message is “vote for me because of who I am.” It’s annoying because he’s not making the case for conservative public policy, and because they think President Obama was elected to office on the basis of his own biography, and, well, Republicans are apparently above all that. On July 4, The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board complained that Romney is running on his biography, and that “candidates who live by biography typically lose by it. See President John Kerry.” The Journal complained about this strategy back in January, too, as did The Weekly Standard‘s Fred Barnes, who wrote, “As things stand, [Romney's] overriding issue is himself. He’ll revive the economy. Why? Because he says he will.” The Journal blames Romney’s “insular” staff. But it’s likely that running on his biography is Romney’s own idea.

Flip Flopping Away
New York Times // Andrew Rosenthal
There’s a great Saturday Night Live skit from 1976, in which Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner argue over whether a new product called “Shimmer” is a floor wax or a dessert topping. Chevy Chase intervenes to point out that it’s a floor wax AND a dessert topping. That skit kept coming back to me as I read coverage of Mitt Romney’s comical flip-flopping on health care. His views on the fine that eventually will be imposed on people who refuse to buy health insurance are remarkably versatile: sometimes it’s a “penalty,” other times a “tax.” Last week, the Romney campaign didn’t want to call the fine a “tax,” probably because Mr. Romney himself imposed such a penalty as part of the health care reform he got enacted in Massachusetts. (That reform, of course, is the template for President Obama’s program.)

Tax or penalty? Romney’s evolving statements irritate conservatives
Los Angeles Times // Mitchell Lansberg
If Mitt Romney was trying to soothe restless conservatives with his July 4th declaration that the Obama healthcare mandate amounts to a tax, he might want to give it another shot. The Wall Street Journal, whose opinion pages are a highly regarded barometer of conservative thought, published an editorial Thursday that excoriated the Romney campaign for its “unforced error” on the tax issue and concluded that “the campaign looks confused in addition to being politically dumb.” It was the latest sign of conservative unhappiness with the Romney campaign, which faces the difficult task of pivoting into the general election after a primary campaign fought well to the right of the general electorate.

Mitt Romney’s problem on the health-care mandate question
Washington Post // Dan Balz
For a politician on vacation, Mitt Romney has managed to make a lot of news this week — in all the wrong ways. He might have been better off just competing in the Romney Olympics with his family rather than getting into the verbal gymnastics event against his chief spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom. The presumptive Republican nominee’s interview Wednesday with Jan Crawford of CBS News was a remarkable retraction from what Fehrnstrom had said just two days earlier about whether the individual mandate in President Obama’s health-care program amounts to a penalty or a tax. The Romney camp showed there is no simple answer for a candidate who backed just such a mandate as governor of Massachusetts. The unfolding of events this week underscores the complexity of Romney’s problem, one that has shadowed his candidacy for more than a year and that, based on the last few days, may trail him for the rest of the campaign. Though his and Obama’s health-care mandates bear a striking resemblance, Romney has spent the entire campaign trying to persuade voters that they’re not at all the same.

Wall Street Journal Strongly Criticizes Romney Campaign
New York Times // Michael D Shear
The Wall Street Journal opinion page on Thursday gave voice to conservative hand-wringing that Mitt Romney’s campaign against President Obama is not living up to expectations.  In a sharply-worded editorial posted online Wednesday evening, The Journal wrote that Mr. Romney’s Boston-based campaign staff is “slowly squandering an historic opportunity” to defeat an incumbent president weakened by a slumping economy. “Mr. Obama is being hurt by an economic recovery that is weakening for the third time in three years,” the paper wrote. “But Mr. Romney hasn’t been able to take advantage, and if anything he is losing ground.” The paper expressed concerns about the campaign’s overall strategy, saying Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, responded to attacks on his wealth by “vacationing this week at his lake-side home with a jet-ski cameo.” And it said that the campaign has failed to respond effectively to attacks on Mr. Romney’s time at Bain Capital.

Romney’s taxing twist on health care mandate
Washington Post // Jonathan Capehart
Mitt Romney clinched the Republican nomination on May 29. Yet he is still trying to convince conservatives that he is one of them. The latest example happened yesterday when he sat with CBS News’s Jan Crawford to explain his stance on the Supreme Court’s health-care ruling.  ROMNEY: …The Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation and it said that it’s a tax, so it’s a tax. That’s what it is. And what I’d like to hear is how President Obama can say he doesn’t think it’s a tax. He disagrees with the court. He thinks the court is inaccurate. If that’s the case, then he must think the bill is unconstitutional because, in order to find it constitutional, they had to find it a tax. And by the way, don’t forget, it was his Solicitor General that went into the court and argued it was a tax. And the conclusion of the court that it’s constitutional…

Wall Street Journal: Mitt Romney Is ‘Squandering’ Candidacy With Health Care Tax Snafu
Huffington Post // Sabrina Siddiqui
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board issued a serious warning to Mitt Romney on Wednesday night, blasting the presumptive Republican nominee and his campaign for potentially “squandering an historic opportunity.” The message was penned to Romney via an op-ed, titled “Romney’s Tax Confusion,” in response to his campaign’s seesawing over whether the individual mandate contained in President Barack Obama’s health care law is a tax or a penalty.  On Wednesday, Romney told CBS News he agrees with the Supreme Court ruling that the individual mandate is a tax, a direct contradiction to what his top adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, said earlier this week. Fehrnstrom had referred to the mandate as a penalty, a line that was echoed by campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul, who said Romney “thinks [the mandate] is an unconstitutional penalty.”

Romney camp seeks to clarify its health care message
CNN // Tom Cohen
As Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney imposed a penalty on people who could afford health insurance but chose to go without it. As Republican presidential candidate, Romney opposes the federal health care law that does the same thing. Last week, Romney’s top campaign adviser said the federal penalty for refusing to get health coverage was exactly that — a fine, not a tax. This week, Romney said it is a tax because the Supreme Court opinion he opposes declared it a tax. Confused? So is the Romney campaign, apparently. The back-and-forth shows the tightrope Romney must walk on the health care reform issue now that he is the certain Republican presidential nominee.

Wall Street Journal blasts Romney for “tax confusion”
CBS // Lucy Madiso
Amid ongoing debates over the semantics of a measure in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act – and whether a fee some Americans will have to pay if they choose not to buy health insurance under the law qualifies as a “tax” or a “penalty” – Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is taking heat even from some conservative voices over his changing position on the matter. In an editorial in Thursday’s newspaper, the Wall Street Journal blasted what it cast as Romney’s “tax confusion” and accused him of “squandering an historic opportunity” to gain ground against Mr. Obama in the presidential race. “If Mitt Romney loses his run for the White House, a turning point will have been his decision Monday to absolve President Obama of raising taxes on the middle class,” reads the editorial in the conservative newspaper. “He is managing to turn the only possible silver lining in Chief Justice John Roberts’s ObamaCare salvage operation–that the mandate to buy insurance or pay a penalty is really a tax–into a second political defeat.”

Mitt Romney, Clumsy on Health Care, Is Shellacked by Conservatives
ABC // Matt Negrin
Mitt Romney is facing the backlash from conservatives that his opponents predicted in the primary, and it isn’t pretty. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, a standard-bearer of conservative thought and talking points, broke with the script this morning and published a critique of the Romney campaign’s waffling on whether to call the health care mandate a tax after the Supreme Court ruled it so. By calling the mandate a penalty and not a tax, the paper said, the Romney campaign “contradicted Republicans throughout the country.” And even though Romney later said in an interview that the penalty is a “tax,” the Journal wrote, “he offered no elaboration, and so the campaign looks confused in addition to being politically dumb.”

Fehrnstromentum?
Talking Points Memo // Brian Beutler

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.

Republicans shouldn’t get dragged into Romney’s mandate mess
Washington Examiner // Philip Klein
When I originally wrote my column for today’s print edition on the political implications of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the mandate as a constitutional exercise of Congress’s taxing power, the Romney campaign’s public position was that the mandate was a penalty. Between the time of my deadline and the time the column went to press, however, Mitt Romney reversed his campaign’s position and said on CBS that the federal mandate was, in fact, a tax. At the same time, he strained to argue that the mandate he signed in Massachusetts was not a tax. The Wall Street Journal is out today with an editorial blasting Romney for running a terrible campaign. But what’s happening isn’t the campaign’s fault. No matter how brilliant the campaign staff is, they can’t change the fact that Romney championed and signed a health care law in Massachusetts that was remarkably similar to President Obama’s national health care law.

The Penalty Box
Slate // John Dickerson
Republicans may have renewed reason to think well of Chief Justice John Roberts. Mitt Romney argued Wednesday that Roberts’ Supreme Court ruling uncovered Barack Obama’s hidden tax in the Affordable Care Act while simultaneously proving that Romney’s similarly designed measure in his Massachusetts health care law was not a tax, but merely a penalty. Did Roberts do this? Not really, but Romney’s novel claim offered the latest twist in a winding series of responses to the ruling. The last week has offered a rare window into the Romney campaign in action. Buttoned-down and risk-averse, the team is slow to react and sticks to the script so strictly they’re even willing to endure ridicule. Those can be highly prized qualities in presidential campaigns. The presidency requires relentless focus, too. But politics and the presidency also require a certain dexterity, an ability to be nimble in the face of changing events.

‘Romney’s made up his mind now’

Boston Herald // Hillary Chabot

Relieved Republicans yesterday lauded Mitt Romney’s sudden move to override one of his top strategists and decry Obamacare as a tax, even as some — fearing renewed charges of flip-flopping — called for a major campaign shake-up. “Clearly, Romney’s made up his mind now, and that’s a good thing. It is a tax, and it’s the clearest way for Republicans to differ– entiate themselves in this race,” said Michael Dennehy, a New Hampshire-based Republican consultant. “But I don’t know why it took him so long.” Many conservatives, though sharply critical of Romney’s campaign, were willing to move on yesterday for the sake of beating President Obama.

It’s a penalty, it’s a tax … it’s more Romney flip-flopping on health care

MSNBC Lean Forward Blog // Rose Gordon

Just two days after Mitt Romney’s top spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, said the former governor agrees with President Obama that the health insurance mandate does not represent a tax, the candidate reversed that positioning. In an interview with CBS Wednesday from New Hampshire where Romney and his family are vacationing, the Republican candidate for president said due to the Supreme Court’s majority decision, he too believes it’s a tax.

Disheveled and unsteady, Romney arrives at the Obamacare tax!

Washington Post // Ed Rogers

Well, it took some swerving and sloppy lane changes to get here, responses to questions may have been slurred and the gait was staggered, suggesting a teetotaling Mormon was not at the wheel, but Mitt Romney has arrived at the fact that Obamacare is a tax.  Romney is now sorta-kinda, almost firmly in place with every other GOP leader that has to share a ballot with him in November. Romney had to go out of his way not to get here quickly after Justice John Roberts’ elegant gift was offered. It didn’t have to be done the hard way.

Romney’s Tax Confusion

Wall Street Journal // Editorial

If Mitt Romney loses his run for the White House, a turning point will have been his decision Monday to absolve President Obama of raising taxes on the middle class. He is managing to turn the only possible silver lining in Chief Justice John Roberts’s ObamaCare salvage operation—that the mandate to buy insurance or pay a penalty is really a tax—into a second political defeat. Appearing on MSNBC, close Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom was asked by host Chuck Todd if Mr. Romney “agrees with the president” and “believes that you shouldn’t call the tax penalty a tax, you should call it a penalty or a fee or a fine?” “That’s correct,” Mr. Fehrnstrom replied, before attempting some hapless spin suggesting that Mr. Obama must be “held accountable” for his own “contradictory” statements on whether it is a penalty or tax. Predictably, the Obama campaign and the media blew past Mr. Fehrnstrom’s point, jumped on the tax-policy concession, and declared the health-care tax debate closed.

Romney calls health reform a ‘tax,’ contradicts top aide

CNN

Mitt Romney said the federal health care reform mandate constitutes a “tax” Wednesday, contradicting the way a senior adviser to his campaign characterized his position earlier this week. But the similar individual mandate and fee he signed into law when governor of Massachusetts is not a tax, he said in a separate interview, citing the Supreme Court’s decision last Thursday. Of the federal law, Romney told CNN’s Dana Bash and Shawna Shepherd, “Supreme Court is the final word, right? The highest court in the land? They said it’s a tax didn’t they?”

Romney Calls Individual Mandate a Tax, Contradicts His Top Aide
ABC // Amy Bingham
Mitt Romney steered his campaign message back in line with other top Republicans today, insisting that the health care law’s individual mandate that requires most Americans to buy health insurance was  ”a tax.” “The majority of the court said it is a tax, and therefore it is a tax,” Romney said in an interview with CBS Wednesday, citing the Supreme Court’s health law ruling last week  that the individual mandate fell under the federal government’s authority to levy taxes and was therefore constitutional. “They have spoken. There’s no way around that. You can try and say you wish they had decided a different way, but they didn’t.” Romney’s comments came days after senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom rejected the notion that the individual mandate imposed a “tax,” saying instead that it was a “penalty.”

Romney Directly Contradicts His Campaign, Now Insists Health Mandate Is ‘A Tax’
Think Progress // Igor Volsky
Earlier this week, Mitt Romney’s top campaign adviser broke with the entire Republican party and insisted that the individual mandate at the center of the Affordable Care Act and Massachusetts’ 2006 health care law is “not a tax.” “The governor disagreed with the ruling of the Court. He agreed with the dissent, which was written by Justice Scalia, which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax,” Eric Fehrnstrom told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd.  But on Wednesday, in another sign that the Romney campaign doesn’t appear to speak for its candidate, Romney told CBS News that he agrees both with the Supreme Court’s dissent striking down the law and also its majority opinion upholding the mandate as a tax:

Dukakis, Kerry … Romney?
Weekly Standard // William Kristol
Remember Michael Dukakis (1988) and John Kerry (2004)? It’s possible to lose a winnable presidential election to a vulnerable incumbent in the White House (or in the case of 1988, a sitting vice president). So, speaking of losing candidates from Massachusetts: Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he’s running? Adopting a prevent defense when it’s only the second quarter and you’re not even ahead is dubious enough as a strategy. But his campaign’s monomaniacal belief that it’s about the economy and only the economy, and that they need to keep telling us stupid voters that it’s only about the economy, has gone from being an annoying tick to a dangerous self-delusion.

 

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