In an editorial released late Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal OpEd page lowers the boom on Mitt Romney and his campaign over its admittedly comical handling of the mandate/tax business. Just to rehearse: Romney has called it both over the years. Republicans came out of the gate hard after the Court ruling calling it a tax. Then Romney’s top advisor, Eric Fehrnstrom, said it wasn’t a tax but rather a penalty. And then today Romney sorta kinda said it was a tax after all — or he kind of wishes or thinks it’s not a tax or did but now the Court has spoken and since the Court has original jurisdiction over campaign terminology, so it’s a tax. And yet somehow his own identical mandate in Massachusetts wasn’t a tax.
The Journal just up and craps all over the whole sorry spectacle, even suggesting that it might be a campaign turning point. Who knows whether there’s any truth to that. But the point to focus on is the suggestion that it’s part of a basic problem with the campaign itself — that it’s not up to snuff. The latest pratfall, says the Journal, “is of a piece with the campaign’s insular staff and strategy that are slowly squandering an historic opportunity.”
Remember, Journal boss Rupert Murdoch pushed the same line earlier this week via twitter: “Met Romney last week. Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful”.
Now, who knows if this is true? As I said last month, pundits and editorialists have a really difficult time knowing what’s happening in a campaign in real time. Mostly they infer back from what they see in the polls. And if candidate A is having a hard time, it’s because the campaign is made up of morons. I figure this is mainly that. (An alternative explanation might be the inherent difficulty of building a campaign around attacking an opponent for supporting a policy you created.)
But press chatter is a world unto itself and a powerful one and one that campaigns often end up reacting to. So for now, let’s just take notice that this seems to be the new conventional wisdom: that the Romney campaign just isn’t ready for prime time. And the Murdoch world seems particularly invested in it.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.