Sam Stein flags a remarkable interview that Mitt Romney gave to a Virginia television station, in which he suggested President Obama gets no credit for pulling the country out of the recession. His interviewer pointed out that the economy was in total free fall when Obama took office, and asked whether things are not better today. Romney replied:
“There has never been a recession that went on forever. There has never been a depression that went on forever. A recession occurs, the economy goes down, and then comes after recession, the recovery. That’s happened since the beginning of time. The president wants to say, well, he stopped the recession from going further. Well, frankly, the recession came to an end and we are waiting for the president to get us to where he said he’d get us, which is 5.4 percent unemployment. And he hasn’t been able to do it because of the policies he’s put in place.”
As Stein notes, this is noteworthy in that it’s “more explicit than usual in its unwillingness to give the president any due for slowing the rate of job loss that he inherited.”
What this confirms, yet again, is that the Romney campaign’s theory of the race is that undecided and swing voters either have concluded, or can be persuaded to conclude, that Obama’s presidency has been a total, unmitigated failure. If this is what you believe, then of course you wouldn’t think you need to offer a meaningfully specific set of alternative policies for the middle class.
But as I keep saying here, I strongly suspect that this argument is far more simplistic than undecided voters’ perceptions of the economy and the Obama presidency, and may not resonate with them as effectively as Romney needs it to. Republicans will point to Obama’s high disapproval numbers on the economy to argue that voters will be receptive to Romney’s argument. But voters can disapprove of Obama’s overall handling of the economy because they are unhappy with the pace of the recovery, while still believing that Obama’s policies played some sort of role in stopping and reversing the country’s slide towards depression. They can disapprove of the sluggish recovery while still remaining open to the argument that Obama’s policies may still have a better chance of helping the country recover over the long haul than Romney’s ideas do — particularly given their lack of specificity and Romney’s inability to explain clearly how his approach differs from Bush’s.
That aside, does Romney really believe that Obama’s stimulus — a big chunk of which came in the form of tax cuts — played no role in slowing and reversing job loss? Not long ago Romney accidentally revealed his inner Keynesian; back in 2008 he explicitly said spending cuts would not be “stimulative,” even as he offered up his own stimulus plan. So, again: Has any interviewer asked Romney directly what he would have done if he’d been president in January of 2009?