The Los Angeles Times has a terrific piece today documenting Mitt Romney’s increasingly tortured stance on the economy and the rhetorical shifts he’s undertaken in the face of good news about the recovery.

But what really jumped out at me was this nugget at the end, in which top Romney strategist Stuart Stevens acknowledges that the economy is likely to keep improving, but predicts that voters will hold Obama accountable for economic suffering, anyway:

Strategists for Romney aren’t rooting for things to sour between now and November, even if that would boost his election prospects. “The economy, I assume, will get better,” Stevens said. “Hope it gets better.”
But even if the recovery stays on track, Stevens is convinced that voters won’t soon forget the experience of the last four years, or forgive Obama. A few months of recovery is a short time to change perceptions.
“You can’t undo the trauma,” Stevens said.

I don’t know if the economy will continue improving or not. But this opens an important window into the Romney campaign’s strategic preparations for the eventuality that it just might. The Romney camp is betting that the American people will remain so traumatized by the aftermath of the crisis that they’ll hold Obama accountable for their suffering, even if the economy is steadily improving.

This yet another sign that the Romney campaign is betting heavily on the possibility that the American people won’t remember or factor in just how awful a crisis Obama inherited upon taking office. Additionally, it sets the stage for a really interesting general election argument. The Romney campaign, and the outside groups backing him, will run hundreds of millions of dollars in ads painting an extremely vivid picture of the American people’s economic suffering, in hopes of getting them to blame Obama for it and to conclude that he failed them. That’s to be expected, of course. The question is: How they will balance this message with an acknowledgment — as Stevens tries to do above — that things are getting better?

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign and its allies are laying the groundwork to spend just as much painting an extremely vivid picture of their own: A potrayal of just how awful a disaster Obama inherited upon taking office, and of the horrific nightmare that would result from a return to GOP policies. The election will turn heavily on how long a view the American public takes, amid a time of intense public anger, anxiety, and mistrust of our institutions. This will not be an election for the faint of heart.