Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has remained conspicuously quiet throughout the debt ceiling debates — a strategy that’s both curious and smart for someone who has made the economy the centerpiece of his campaign. As the past few weeks have demonstrated, the debt limit drama is difficult to pin down — and the political fallout of holding any given position is by no means clear. But, last night, the president’s disappointing speech prompted even Romney to pipe up. Politico’s Maggie Haberman reports:

Mitt Romney tweeted this response to President Obama’s debt ceiling speech last night:

“An historic failure of leadership from @BarackObama, not even @SenatorReid is still talking about tax increases.”

The quick statement … overlooks the fact that Obama is actually backing the Reid plan. But it underscores the delicate dance Romney’s engaged in on the debt negotiations, which dovetails with the central theme of his campaign — the nation’s economy, and its spending.

Haberman is partially wrong about Romney’s comment. It doesn’t suggest Romney didn’t realize Obama supports Reid’s plan. It suggests Romney is as weary as the rest of us of Obama’s constant talk of a need for self-sacrifice from oil company executives and hedge fund managers. Romney was merely noting that even Reid has dropped the talk of “shared sacrifice,” which actually isn’t shared at all (perhaps Reid gave up on that line of rhetoric when “The Sense of the Senate on Shared Sacrifice” failed even his Democrat chamber). Yet, Obama persists with the class warfare comments.

Anyway, Romney was on safe territory with his tweet. The president’s speech was widely regarded as insubstantial and even misleading. Several other presidential candidates had far sharper criticism for BHO.

Rep. Michele Bachmann hit on the president’s arrogance and patronizing tone. (I’m still appalled that the president baldly suggested Americans don’t understand what a debt ceiling increase means — and tried to tell us it isn’t a license to spend more!)

“Shame on President Obama for casting the American people aside as collateral damage, as he continues his political gamesmanship with the national debt crisis,” Bachmann said in a statement. “The problem with the president’s plan is that he’s operating from the wrong assumption — that we need to increase the debt limit to pay for increased spending. Despite what President Obama says, the people of this country understand what raising the debt limit means. It’s the President who doesn’t grasp the magnitude of our national debt; he compares it to ‘a little credit card debt’ when, in fact, our ‘national credit cards’ are maxed out.”

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty cleverly reversed his own campaign slogan — “Results, not rhetoric” — by criticizing Obama’s results-less rhetoric (or, rather, by pointing out the very negative results Obama’s administration has produced).

“President Obama is lecturing the country instead of leading it,” Pawlenty said. “He has presided over the largest and most irresponsible run up of debt in our nation’s history, and he now threatens to preside over the first default in U.S. history. Once again, President Obama did not have the courage to offer real solutions to fix runaway debt. Where is his plan to fix Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?  Tonight’s speech was all rhetoric and no results, and is another reason why President Obama needs to be removed from office.”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum noted the president’s irrelevant position in the negotiations and legislative process — an especially important point. Even Democrats seem to be done dealing with the president on this.

“President Obama said tonight that ‘people are fed up with a town where compromise has become a dirty word,’ but what the people are fed up with is a President who uses class warfare as a crutch to divide rather than focusing on solving the issues affecting each and every American,” said Senator Santorum.  “The fact that President Obama has been shut out by not just Republican but by Democratic congressional leaders is a clear indication that he has become incapable of addressing our nation’s debt crisis.”

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman criticized Obama’s calls for tax increases and “his own politically motivated timetable” as “misguided” and “reckless,” but supported House Speaker John Boehner’s compromise plan as “a good first step.”

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) continues to call any proponent of a debt ceiling increase at all “misled.”

In comparison to his competitors, then, Romney’s characterization of Obama’s primetime speech as an “historic failure of leadership” seems rather mild. He was right to speak up and say something — the president’s words were too “off” of yesterday’s developments and the requirements of the negotiations, in general, to say nothing.