Mitt Romney has a "taxing" problem that has Rupert Murdoch calling for the Republican presidential nominee to fire his top campaign staff.
The conservative media magnate, whose British news outlets remain embroiled in controversy in the wake of a phone-hacking scandal, took to Twitter to criticize Mr. Romney’s advisers after they apparently botched their candidate’s response to last week’s Supreme Court decision upholding President Barack Obama’s health-care law.
Unless he replaces his staff, Mr. Murdoch warned, Mr. Romney risks being outsmarted by Mr. Obama’s wily team of campaign operatives.
“Met Romney last week. Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful,” the 81-year-old billionaire tweeted earlier this week.
The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Mr. Murdoch, reprised that theme in a Thursday editorial, blaming Mr. Romney’s “confused” reaction to the Supreme Court ruling on his staff.
The editorial followed Mr. Romney’s Wednesday move to switch gears and align himself with Congressional Republicans in characterizing the Obama health-care law as a new tax.
It was an effort in damage control. But it only reinforced Mr. Romney’s image as a flip-flopper.
Mr. Romney’s initial reluctance to call the penalties envisioned under Mr. Obama’s law a new tax stemmed from the fact the health legislation he passed while governor of Massachusetts imposes similar levies.
By calling “Obamacare” a tax, Mr. Romney effectively conceded that he raised taxes in Massachusetts. That put him in violation of the GOP’s anti-tax pledge.
“This latest mistake is of a piece with the campaign's insular staff and strategy that are slowly squandering an historic opportunity,” the Journal wrote on Thursday. “Mr. Romney promised Republicans he was the best man to make the case against President Obama, whom they desperately want to defeat. So far Mr. Romney is letting them down.”
Last week, the Supreme Court rejected the main argument of the Obama administration, concluding that U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause does not empower the federal government to force individuals to purchase health insurance.
But it decided that the law was nevertheless valid, since the government has unlimited power to tax people who refuse to buy insurance.
Congressional Republicans jumped on the ruling to argue that “Obamacare” constitutes a massive new tax on the middle-class. Mr. Romney’s top advisers refused to go that far, countering the levy imposed by the new law is a “penalty.”
Mr. Romney hoped to put an end to conflict on Wednesday, telling CBS News : “The Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation, and it said that it’s a tax, so it’s a tax. They have spoken. There is no way around that.”
The statement only added fuel to the debate over Mr. Romney’s campaign staff. In a television interview last week, senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom repeatedly refused to use the ‘t’ word to refer to the Obama law, sticking to the line that Obamacare imposed an “unconstitutional penalty” on the non-compliant.
Mr. Fehrnstrom is the same adviser who, in March, caused a stir by comparing Mr. Romney’s move from the GOP primary to the general election campaign to an “Etch A Sketch” moment. Mr. Romney could distance himself from the hard right-wing stands he took to win the primary by moving to the centre, Mr. Fehrnstrom suggested.
"I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign, everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch, you can kind of shake it up and we start all over again," Mr. Fehrnstrom said at the time.
Mr. Murdoch, for his part, is not backing down. After his initial tweet, he jumped back in with another: “Romney people upset at me! Of course I want him to win, save us from socialism, etc but should listen to the good advice and get stuck in!”