Since Mitt Romney announced his candidacy last June, he has continually made two core claims about Obama’s economic record, each of which contradicts the other. Depending on the moment, Romney has said either:

1) Obama didn’t cause the recession, but he made it worse; and his policies have destroyed jobs.


2) Yes, the economy is recovering, but only in spite of Obama’s policies, not because of them.

Today, in response to the better than expected jobs numbers, Romney tried out a third line: The economy may or may not be recovering, but one thing is certain: Obama’s policies are preventing a “true” recovery.

Here’s Romney’s statement, just released:

“We welcome the fact that jobs were created and unemployment declined. Unfortunately, these numbers cannot hide the fact that President Obama’s policies have prevented a true economic recovery. We can do better. Last week, we learned that the economy grew only 1.7% in 2011, the slowest growth in a non-recession year since the end of World War II. As a result, the percentage of Americans in the job market continues to decline and is now at a level not seen since the early 1980s. Nearly 24 million Americans remain unemployed, underemployed, or have just stopped looking for work. Long-term unemployment remains at record levels. I am running for president because I have the vision and experience to help rebuild the economy and put us on a path toward greater prosperity for all Americans.”

The use of the passive voice here — “jobs were created” — is a nice touch. Now, in fairness to Romney, this statement, parsed carefully, could be read as being in sync with position number two: Yes, the economy is recovering, but only in spite of Obama’s policies. But ultimately, Romney’s claim today that “Obama’s policies have prevented a true economic recovery” is inconclusive about the question of whether any kind of recovery is underway. So this reads like a third position.

Steve Benen joked today: “He can argue that the economy is better, or he can argue the economy is worse. Even Romney should realize, however, he can’t argue both at the same time.” Actually, maybe Romney has found a way to navigate between those two poles.

Romney cites a battery of statistics to support today’s position. But the question for Romney is: Why should we not conclude that over 20 straight months of private sector job creation mean we are on a “path towards greater prosperity,” as Romney puts it?

Now, I really don’t mean to sound glib about this. It remains true that Obama’s policies have not caused us to recover at the rate we would have liked. As Paul Krugman notes, you can criticize Romney’s claims that Obama destroyed jobs as indefensible while simultaneously acknowledging that that the President’s record is not good enough. The economy can still dip again, particularly if more austerity policies choke off the recovery. The unemployment rate is still stubbornly high. Obama is still very vulnerable.

But still, Romney is running for president, for Pete’s sake. At what point will his utter incoherence on these matters — which are absoulutely central to his entire case for himself and against Obama — attract a bit more scrutiny?