Thursday night on "The Rachel Maddow Show," host Rachel Maddow welcomed Washington Post writer E. J. Dionne for a discussion about difficulties facing the campaign of Republican nominee for president, Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA). Since the announcement by the Supreme Court that the individual mandate and the bulk of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act are constitutional, the Romney campaign has had real difficulty finding its footing with regards to messaging.

To begin with, Maddow took us back to the early days of the 2008 presidential race, when actor and former Watergate investigator Fred Thompson was the Beltway favorite to snag the Republican nomination. "He was a large person with a deep voice," said Maddow, "and he played a District Attorney on 'Law and Order!'"

In spite of Thompson's lack of experience or significant legislative record, people in Washington believed that Thompson was their long awaited reincarnation of Ronald Reagan and treated him thusly until he entered the race, where he proved to be a spectacular dud. But one place, Maddow said, where Thompson succeeded was in "pinning down Mitt Romney like a not-quite-dead butterfly" on exactly that "Roneycare" did in Massachusetts. It imposed an individual mandate that the then-governor described as a tax on "free-riders," a real-world manifestation of that old saw, "personal responsibility."

As a result of being on the record supporting a policy that looks a lot like the ACA, or "Obamacare," the Romney campaign has become a "total, incoherent mess" on the issue and has been forced to "flail ostentatiously" to try to find a message that works, and as a result, Maddow said, "The right is freaking out."

A Wall Street Journal editorial said that the Romney campaign seems "confused, as well as politically dumb" on the issue.

Washington Post reporter E. J. Dionne joined Maddow to discuss a campaign that seems to be leaving the runway in some ways. Dionne said that having the Wall Street Journal criticize the Republican nominee at this point in the campaign season is sort of like the Vatican newspaper criticizing the Pope.

Watch the clip, embedded via MSNBC, below:

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