As Greg and I have argued in the past, Mitt Romney’s key asset is the appearence of competence. By virtue of his look, composure and business background, voters assume that he has command over issues and that he could succeed if elected president. In its first general-election advertisement, the Romney campaign showed voters what the GOP nominee would do on his first day as president, in an attempt to play on that perception. Today the campaign released its second ad, and it’s a continuation of the first – a day one, part two, which focuses on what Romney would do for the economy:
On day one, according to this commercial, Romney would “announce deficit reductions,” “stand up” to China on trade and begin to repeal “job-killing regulations.” It’s not clear what any of this would mean in real life. The president can’t cut budgets by fiat, so what would Romney actually do to reduce deficits on his first day? He could press Congress to implement his budget plan, but it calls for massive tax cuts that would deprive the government of revenue and make deficit reduction less likely.
From his previous rhetoric — “I will label China … a currency manipulator.… And they will recognize that if they cheat there is a price to pay” — it’s clear that Romney means a trade war when he says he plans to stand up to China. But as the Wall Street Journal rightfully pointed out in an editorial last fall, this would be a huge blunder; pursuing a trade war with China would drive up prices, hurt workers and damage our standing in the international community, especially on issues where Chinese help is invaluable. China-bashing might make for good politics (it’s par for the course in presidential elections), but it wouldn’t help the economy or create jobs.
All of this gets to one of the big problems with Romney’s campaign; for all the talk of job creation, the Republican nominee doesn’t have a plan for stimulating the economy. You might argue for his tax cuts as a stimulative measure, but his other budget priorities — deep cuts to social spending — would counter any boost the economy gained from lower taxes. In a recent interview, Time magazine’s Mark Halperin gave Romney a chance to elaborate on his proposals for job creation, and the most he gave was a nod to his 59-point plan:
Mark, I tell you, that you’re gonna have to look at them one by one — I’ve got 59 there, you’re going to have to decide which one is the most innovative and new. There are some that are new; there are some that are straightforward, such as how to balance the budget....
We’ve got to get rid of ObamaCare. It is scaring small businesses away from hiring. I’ll mention one more, and that’s the level of regulation on community banks. Community banks are getting hurt by Dodd-Frank and other regulations, making it harder for them to make loans to small businesses. All these things come together.
Romney says nothing here — or in his economic plan, for that matter — about growing aggregate demand or putting pressure on businesses and consumers to spend money. Outside of (potentially) tax cuts, Romney doesn’t have a “jobs plan” to speak of. Admittedly, this was a common Republican complaint during the first year of the Obama administration. The difference is that the target of those complaints, the stimulus, created jobs and helped the economy.
As far as the presidential campaign goes, however, I’m not sure that Romney needs a plan to create jobs. Americans are dissatisfied enough with the economy that they’re willing to take Romney’s claims at face value. In his ads and his rhetoric, Romney says he’ll create jobs, and more important, he looks like he can do it; why should voters doubt him?