Mitt Romney made a smart decision to come out swinging today. In one of his better, more focused interviews, he reacted to the jobs numbers:

His reminder that four people are leaving the workforce for every new job is a compelling statistic.

He would do well in the debates to expand on several points he made briefly in the interview and on the tarmac in Iowa in this brief news conference:

First, he rightly says that President Obama did not talk about jobs or jump-starting the economy. The point here is simple: The laundry list of liberal wish-list items is unrelated to and in fact a hindrance to an economic revival. Obama’s plans are to borrow more money to have government spend it on very expensive items (2 million people in community colleges). You can argue that these are good things, or you can argue we can’t afford them. But in no way do they contribute to the jobs recovery. That total disconnect between liberal statism (e.g., Obamacare, “free” college tuition) and private-sector job growth has been a constant in this administration, and Romney should hit it again and again. Liberals, including many in the media, don’t understand that if you do things to allow the private sector to thrive ( remove the threat of higher taxes, open up new markets, allow energy exploration), rather than simply growing government, you will ignite job creation. Romney needs to keep pounding that home.

Second, in talking about the auto bailout, it is important to understand what the president did and how he did it. The issue was not whether General Motors and Chrysler were going bankrupt; they were. The issue is whether the government was going to spare its Big Labor allies from the usual bankruptcy consequences and termination of the labor agreement, so the company, the shareholders, the bondholders, the creditors and even workers (future and nonunion, specifically) would not be subsidizing a failed United Auto Workers deal that contributed to the destruction of the domestic auto industry. In part because Obama did that the wrong way ( e.g., sparing his union patrons), GM is in big, big trouble. This is the story of the Obama administration: Stick the taxpayers with huge bills, reward friends and get worse results than if you hadn’t spent the taxpayers’ money. That’s the message that Romney will have to clarify.

Romney gave his best answer to date on the accusation that he would be taking the country back to the George W. Bush years. This has become a refrain not only in the Obama camp but in the media more widely. Rather than debate the merits of the Bush policies, he went point by point through his agenda making clear that the things he is proposing either weren’t applicable in the Bush era (e.g., repealing Obamacare) or are different (e.g., tax reform, not just rate reduction). Given how readily media have accepted Obama's refrain, Romney will need to hit that explanation again and again in both interviews and debates.

In both the interview and the news conference, Romney addressed national security. While rebuffing the notion that he ignored the troops in his acceptance speech (he referred to the “military” and spoke at the American Legion, he explained), he obviously made use of the unflattering portrayal of the president in Bob Woodward’s new book, citing the news that the sequestration idea did originate in the White House. The relevance of this is that then and now, Obama tried to hold the military hostage to extract a tax hike from the Republicans. That’s an extraordinary bit of cynicism. (Do our national security needs diminish because the GOP won’t capitulate in the class warfare battle?).

There is a long way to go to the four debates in October, but conservatives should be pleased that Romney is beginning to refine and sharpen his rhetoric. He’ll need to do more to close the deal with voters.