I asked Obama senior strategist David Axelrod for a response to Mitt Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom’s claim today that Obamacare’s mandate is not a tax, after all. The assertion puts the Romney campaign at odds with multiple leading Republican Congressional and party officials, all of whom have adopted as a central talking point the claim that Obamacare’s mandate represents a massive tax increase.

Axelrod responded:

As we’ve said from the beginning, Gov. Romney’s problem is that his approach on health care was very much the model for the Affordable Care Act. His case for the mandate was as cogent as any. His explanation then of the penalty on “free riders,” who game the system and let taxpayers and the insured pick up their freight, was right on target.

So now, as the Republican Party and their SuperPacs try to depict this narrow, freeloader penalty, that would touch less than 1 percent of Americans, as a broad tax on the middle class, they’re sliming their own nominee, as well.

This is how the Obama campaign and Dems will respond, if and when Republicans and Super PACs continue to insist the Obamacare mandate is a massive tax increase, despite the Romney spokesman’s claim otherwise. They will argue that those Republicans and outside groups are “sliming their own nominee.”

It’s unclear whether the Romney camp’s new move helps matters. The Romney campaign has settled on a consistent response, perhaps because it had no choice: Neither our mandate nor Obamacare’s mandate represents a tax increase. But leading Republicans will continue to insist otherwise, and will argue that Obama’s mandate represents the greatest tax increase in the history of the univers. Which, again, will only serve to remind us that Romney created the model for the very same policy tool that is now central to the GOP argument for kicking Obama out of office.

It’s also worth noting that this is one area where the press is being extremely tough on Romney’s equivocations and contortions. How much this will matter in November is an open question, of course, but this story very well may leave a short-term mark.