WASHINGTON – The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, an influential forum of conservative thought, today published a blistering critique of Mitt Romney’s campaign, saying his “insular staff and strategy ... are slowly squandering an historic opportunity.”
In an editorial, it wrote: “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.”
The editorial added: “Mr. Obama is being hurt by an economic recovery that is weakening for the third time in three years. But Mr. Romney hasn’t been able to take advantage, and if anything, he is losing ground.”
But the thrust of the criticism was over how Romney has handled the week after the Supreme Court upheld Obama’s health care law. The editorial criticized the campaign’s “lame jujitsu spin” on the issue, and added, “The campaign looks confused in addition to being politically dumb.”
The court ruled that the law was constitutional because it considered the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate in the 2010 health care expansion — a penalty payment made to the Internal Revenue Service — qualifies as a tax.
Eric Fehrnstrom, one of Romney’s top and longtime campaign advisers, said on Monday that Romney “disagrees with the court’s ruling that the mandate was a tax,” a stance that undercut most of the conservative criticism of the ruling.
On Wednesday, Romney reversed course and said that he thought the individual mandate was “a tax.”
Romney’s health care law in Massachusetts is further complicating his position, because it also charges residents if they don’t obtain health insurance.
Romney has argued that the state mandate is not a tax but a penalty, and on Wednesday he cited language in the court opinion distinguishing the states’ right to impose such penalties from the federal government’s power to impose such a tax.
“The tragedy is that for the sake of not abandoning his faulty health-care legacy in Massachusetts, Mr. Romney is jeopardizing his chance at becoming president,” the Journal wrote.
The editorial came several days after Rupert Murdoch met with Romney and came away with an unfavorable impression of his campaign operation. Murdoch is the chief executive of News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal.
“Met Romney last week,” Murdoch tweeted 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 next day, Murdoch tweeted, “Romney people upset at me! Of course I want him to win, save us from socialism, etc but should listen to good advice and get stuck in!”
Jack Welch, the former chief executive of General Electric, added his voice of criticism. He tweeted, “Hope Mitt Romney is listening to Murdoch advice ont campaign staff ... playing in league with Chicago pols. ... No room for amateurs.”
Earlier this year, Welch had called Romney “the most qualified leader I’ve ever seen run for the presidency of the United States.”
Romney’s campaign did not immediately comment on the Wall Street Journal editorial.
By late Thursday morning, another prominent conservative commentator joined in the criticism, comparing Romney’s campaign to other losing bids from Massachusetts (Michael Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2004) and saying he was being too timid.
“Adopting a prevent defense when it’s only the second quarter and you’re not even ahead is dubious enough as a strategy,” William Kristol wrote on the website of the Weekly Standard. “But his campaign’s monomaniacal belief that it’s about the economy and only the economy, and that they need to keep telling us stupid voters that it’s only about the economy, has gone from being an annoying tick to a dangerous self-delusion.”
“What is his economic growth agenda? His deficit reform agenda? His health care reform agenda? His tax reform agenda? His replacement for Dodd-Frank?” Kristol added. “No need for any of that, I suppose the Romney campaign believes.”
Kristol – and, for that matter, the Wall Street Journal editorial page – has never been a huge fan of Romney. But the fact that Romney is still taking incoming fire from his fellow Republicans several weeks after he had appeared to unite his party could prove to be a problem as the campaign prepares for a furious final few months.