Romney Campaign Declares a Truce on Obamacare

It's becoming clear that the Republican has decided that focusing on the economy is a better way to defeat President Obama.

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In the aftermath of the Supreme Court health-care ruling, the early conventional wisdom was that an unfavorable ruling at the court would be good for Republicans politically, even as it was a serious policy setback for conservatives. But that's not shaping up to be the case. Mitt Romney, after giving a brief statement decrying the decision, has been virtually silent on criticizing the Affordable Care Act. He's been on vacation and his campaign has been giving off clear signals that it doesn't want to make health care a major part of the election.

His senior adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, went on MSNBC Monday and ended up agreeing with the Obama campaign's spin that, even though the Supreme Court declared the individual mandate a tax, it really still is a penalty. Significantly, his campaign appears to want to take the most potent argument against the president on the health care subject off the table, likely out of fear the Romney himself is vulnerable when it comes to his health care record. He, after all, supported a mandate as governor of Massachusetts, and doesn't want that to be considered a tax, either.

For an issue that's supposedly potent against Democrats, Romney's campaign is declaring a cease fire. This, even as the law polls unfavorably and it proved to be a motivating force for Republicans and disaffected independents in the 2010 midterms.

It's becoming clear that Romney has decided to focus on the economy at the expense of everything else, even issues that could play to his political benefit. He's avoided criticizing the administration's handling of the botched Fast and Furious operation, even as it threatens to become a serious vulnerability for the president. He's been silent in responding to Obama's immigration executive order, not wanting to offend receptive Hispanics or appear like a flip-flopper. He appears more likely to tap a safe, bland running mate like Ohio Senator Rob Portman or former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty who won't do him any harm but won't benefit him much either. If the economy continues to sputter, that safe strategy might be enough. If not, his options are limited.

In football, there's a well-worn cliché about the prevent defense (a scheme utilized when a team holds a big lead over its opponent): It prevents teams from winning games. In politics, Mitt Romney is testing that proposition as far as he can.

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Josh Kraushaar is the political editor for National Journal.

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