Yesterday on MSNBC, Chuck Todd pressed Mitt Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom to explain why Obamacare’s individual mandate is a tax but Romneycare’s individual mandate is a penalty. Fehrnstrom declined. Instead he claimed that both the Obamacare mandate and the Romneycare mandate were penalties. This directly contradicts the message of every Republican that will be running down ballot from Rommney this fall. This is not a minor problem.

Republicans have been running hard against Obamacare ever since it was passed and it has worked wonders for them. New polling may show that Chief Justice John Roberts decision upholding Obamacare’s individual mandate has made the law more popular among Democrats, but independents are still strongly against it. This is not an issue Republicans can afford to abandon.

Romney is wise to ignore the immigration, gay marriage, and Fast and Furious distractions so he can focus on the economy. But Obamacare is too intertwined with the economy to ignore. And conservative activists and the media are not going to just let the issue disappear. He must come up with a message explaining how Obamacare is hurting the economic recovery and how it differs from Romneycare. Then he needs to get the rest of his party on board.

Republicans will lose in November if they are using polar opposite talking points about the biggest issue in the campaign.

Campaign 2012
Poll: A new CNN/ORC International poll shows Obama leading Romney 49 percent to 46 percent. But the poll also found that Romney led 51 percent to 43 percent in 15 swing states.

Romney: The Romney campaign announced yesterday that the candidate will visit Israel this summer to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders.

Obama: The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that “Obama’s main campaign fund has fallen considerably behind its 2008 pace in raising cash from the Philadelphia region.”

Around the Bigs
Associated Press, US manufacturing shrinks for first time in nearly 2 years, as new orders drop sharply: The U.S. factory sector shrank in June for the first time since July 2009—the first month of the economic recovery—the Institute for Supply Management said Monday. Exports fell, and new orders, which gauge future factory activity, dropped at their fastest pace since the post-9/11 plunge in October 2001.

The Washington Examiner, Wages drop, only 5th time in 33 years: In a just-released review of employment in the nation’s largest 322 counties, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that weekly wages dropped over the year by 1.7 percent to $955 in the fourth quarter of 2011 from a high of $971 in the fourth quarter of 2010. This is one of only five declines since the category was created in 1978.

Des Moines Register, Branstad is firm on opposing idea to grow Medicaid: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad reaffirmed his resistance to expanding Medicaid on Monday, a stance that could reject $800 million annually in federal money to cover 150,000 poor Iowans without health insurance.

The Washington Post, Europe turns to corporate sponsors to preserve treasures amid financial crisis: Crushed by runaway debts, European governments are turning to corporations to keep their historical buildings, churches, monuments, bridges, barracks, archaeological ruins and other sites from crumbling.

The New York Times, U.S. Adds Forces in Persian Gulf, a Signal to Iran: The United States has quietly moved significant military reinforcements into the Persian Gulf to deter the Iranian military from any possible attempt to shut the Strait of Hormuz and to increase the number of fighter jets capable of striking deep into Iran if the standoff over its nuclear program escalates.

Righty Playbook
Michael Gerson details Chief Justice John Roberts alternate universe.

At The Corner, Veronique de Rugy makes the case that it is time to end sugar quotas.

The Washington Examiner editorial board notes that Congress robbed taxpayers twice while the nation was distracted with Obamacare.

Lefty Playbook
Mother Jones‘ David Corn is attacking Romney for investing in medical waste firms that disposed of aborted fetuses.

Vanity Fair has posted an “investigation” of where Romney keeps his money, including accounts in the Cayman Islands.

The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent notes that the new Kaiser poll finds that “that 56 percent of Americans, and 51 percent of independents, want the law’s opponents to stop trying to block implementation and move on to other problems.”