Mitt Romney knew Thursday would be brutal, and it was.
On the morning of his much-touted health care speech Thursday at the University of Michigan's Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor, Romney woke up to a spanking on the conservative editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, followed by a fusillade of criticism from Democrats as eager as the Journal to undermine his presidential aspirations.
Romney, an unsuccessful 2008 candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, has yet to unequivocally declare himself a candidate in the 2012 race.
But he has been a front-runner in most speculative GOP horse race polls, he has money and a professional on-the-ground organization in early primary and caucus states, and he is expected to formalize his run soon.
Thursday, in what is expected to be a series of issue speeches by the prospective candidate, provides a preview of what his detractors view as his very exploitable political soft spot: his support when governor of Massachusetts of health care legislation that required residents to purchase health insurance. (No advance text was available, according to an aide who said it's because Romney was using PowerPoint.)
That insurance requirement is the central tenet of national health care legislation passed last year by Democrats, and the very aspect of the new law that conservatives have been challenging in federal courts as unconstitutional.
Romney has the unenviable task of attempting to make a case against what conservatives derisively call "Obamacare," while distancing himself from what some conservatives derisively call "Romneycare."
The Journal opiners declared Romney "compromised and not credible" because as governor he endorsed the insurance requirement, seen as a model for the national legislation.
They, and other party leaders, view health care and overturning the new national legislation as central to efforts to oust President Obama from the White House. Democrats, relishing Romney's attempt to distance himself from the Massachusetts plan, have embraced — or re-embraced — the characterization of Romney as a flip-flopper, a moniker that dogged him in his 2008 run for the GOP presidential nomination.
Romney, said new Democratic Party Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, is "twisting his head into a pretzel."
The Democratic National Committee emailed reporters a spoof of PowerPoint slides it said would be "missing" from Romney's address today: They recounted his history of support for requiring individuals to purchase health insurance.
Just wait till he delivers his 2 p.m. speech.
In a preview of his speech, Romney on Wednesday wrote in a USA Today commentary that "the president and the Congress took a wrong turn" passing what he referred to as "ObamaCare."
He promised that, if elected president, his first act on his first day in the White House would be to "pave the way" for waivers allowing all 50 states to opt out of the new law, or many parts of it.
Romney's new plan? "To harness the power of markets to drive positive change
in health insurance and health care."
That means? "State flexibility (unlike ObamaCare's top-down federal approach), no new taxes (as opposed to hundreds of billions of dollars of new taxes under ObamaCare), and better consumer choice (as opposed to bureaucratic, government choice under ObamaCare). This change of direction offers our best hope of preserving both innovation and value."