Meanwhile, Obama himself is being cagey on what to call his mandate, afraid to agree with the court for fear that it would give Republicans an opening to say he raised taxes. Recently his spokesman said the mandate is "under the section of the law that is the tax code," but is not a tax. Imagine how Republicans could tear that one up -- if only the GOP candidate hadn't passed a mandate of his own.
The tension has gotten so great that some conservative voices have had enough. In a scathing editorial on July 5, The Wall Street Journal wrote that Romney "favored the individual mandate as part of his reform in Massachusetts, and as we've said from the beginning of his candidacy his failure to admit that mistake makes him less able to carry the anti-Obamacare case to voters."
"The tragedy," the Journal continued, "is that for the sake of not abandoning his faulty health care legacy in Massachusetts, Mr. Romney is jeopardizing his chance at becoming president."
This is not an entirely fixable problem. Romney can't change his record, and Obamacare won't stop being an issue. But could Romney at least partially reconcile the two by admitting that Romneycare was a bad idea?
It would certainly make Romney's case more consistent; he could promise to end Obamacare without also having to explain himself. He would also bring his position in line with that of most Republican voters. But it might also be an unmitigated disaster, the most damaging flip-flop ever for a candidate known to change positions.
In the end, it's almost impossible to imagine Romney would do it. When he talks about health care, there's always a certain bravado -- he has said he just can't wait to engage Barack Obama in a one-on-one debate over health care -- that conceals the weakness of his position. He's come too far to back down now, and odds are he will win or lose without ever admitting that Romneycare was the wrong thing to do.