The Post reports: “The U.S. economic recovery slowed in the first three months of the year, with growth falling to an annual rate of 2. 2 percent, as government spending declined and businesses invested less, the Commerce Department said Friday.” There was little to cheer about.

Even before the news was out Mitt Romney’s campaign was out with a “more in sadness than in anger” memo from its campaign chief, which read in part:

President Obama’s stagnant, government-centered economy has depressed growth and the American spirit of natural optimism. At a time when a campaign just emerging from a long primary should be struggling, Governor Romney has rapidly unified support and begun to capture the imagination of the country with his vision of a pro-growth economy that will lift us out of the Obama doldrums. It was a big speech to mark a big win that begins a big debate about big things.

President Obama, on the other hand, spent the week slow-jamming the news, striking a Heisman pose, and trying to pick a fight over student loans to help the one-in-two recent college graduates who are either jobless or underemployed as a result of his policies (which is apparently really funny stuff to the President). Unfortunately for him, Republicans agree with the need for a temporary extension, but want it paid for by cutting spending rather than raising taxes. So instead of the fight he was hoping for, he got a debate over taxes and spending – which he wasn’t hoping for.

But changing a presidential schedule is not easy, so Obama pressed on anyway with “official” events to attack his political opponents in swing states with target voters 18-29 years of age that he did well with in 2008 but whose support is waning in 2012. His campaign team then announced in a hastily-arranged Wednesday night conference call that his re-election campaign would begin on May 5th (as if the President hasn’t been campaigning for re-election non-stop for a year now).

In making this announcement, the Chicago crowd was consistent with what has been a remarkably flailing campaign with no discernible rationale for candidacy. . . .

The Obama campaign is like one of those gyrating, intermittent lawn sprinklers, spewing out attacks in seemingly random directions, hoping to get somebody wet somewhere but hoping even more to talk about anything but the unemployment rate, federal debt, gas prices, or rising health insurance premiums.

The message that the president is engaged in silly, trivial politics while big problems fester will, I strongly suspect, become a theme for Romney. It combines several Romney arguments: The economy still stinks, President Obama is not up for the job, and just about everything that comes out of Obama’s mouth is meant to distract the public from the first two points.

It is also clever to sweep away all the clutter coming from Obama’s camp rather than respond to each and every item on the “throw it up against the wall and see what sticks” act. Romney is essentially trying to inoculate himself against the parade of attacks, insults and innuendos to follow. At times his team will need to come out with guns blazing to stomp out a charge, but this seems the smarter approach.

A Romney spokeswoman was next up with a memo, again in sadness, on how Obama’s camp was now saying that Romney might not have ordered Osama bin Laden’s killing. Aside from the fact virtually no one believes that, it was once again fodder for the Romney camp:

Desperate to tout anything they can, the Obama campaign has turned to bin Laden. The killing of Osama bin Laden was a momentous day for all Americans and the world, and Governor Romney congratulated the military, our intelligence agencies, and the President. It’s now sad to see the Obama campaign seek to use an event that unified our country to once again divide us, in order to try to distract voters’ attention from the failures of his administration. With 23 million Americans struggling for work, our national debt soaring, and household budgets being squeezed like never before, Mitt Romney is focused on strengthening America at home and abroad. . . .

“Sad” rather than “outrageous” or “despicable” is the right framing, I think. Romney’s message is that Obama is the angry, flailing candidate, so Romney has to stay above the fray and be the adult in the race. Notice also that this comes from advisers who can deal with Obama’s petty political stunts.

So long as the economy sags Obama’s hyper-partisanship will become grating over time, I suspect. Doesn’t he have more important things to talk about? Well yes, but he doesn’t know what to do about the important stuff.