The jobs numbers today, to no one’s surprise, were once again lousy. The unemployment rate is up to 8.3 percent. We did add 163,000 jobs, which is better than in the past few months, but the labor pool once again shrank, this time by 150,000 people. June’s jobs number was revised downward from 80,000 to 64,000. We are going in the wrong direction.

This is the fundamental problem for President Obama. In 2009, Obama predicted a 5.6 percent unemployment rate in July 2012 with his stimulus, 6 percent without it. When he said failure to fix the economy would make his presidency a “one-term proposition,” unemployment was at 8.3 percent. It still is. He can distract the electorate, or at least the media, momentarily. He has to vilify his opponent, who at the convention and in the debates will enjoy the benefit of exceptionally low expectations. He can belatedly scrounge together a new round of Iran sanctions. He can unilaterally and extra-constitutionally amend the immigration and welfare laws. But in the end (and the beginning and middle, for that matter) is the economy, and specifically, jobs.

Mitt Romney put out a statement on the jobs numbers: “Today’s increase in the unemployment rate is a hammer blow to struggling middle-class families. Yesterday I launched my Plan for a Stronger Middle Class that will bring more jobs and more take home pay. My plan will turn things around and bring the economy roaring back, with twelve million new jobs created by the end of my first term. President Obama doesn’t have a plan and believes that the private sector is ‘doing fine.’ Obviously, that is not the case. We’ve now gone 42 consecutive months with the unemployment rate above eight percent. Middle class Americans deserve better, and I believe America can do better.”

The notion that Obama can hold his own on the economy, as my colleague Greg Sargent imagines he can, requires him to “catch up” to Romney in voters’ evaluation of the candidate best able to handle the economy. In that regard, Obama trails Romney. Not a little. Significantly .

Obama therefore has to overcome a disadvantage in the factor most important to the greatest number of voters. Gay marriage and immigration perhaps nibble around the margins, but just a little. The only way he does this is to viciously, consistently destroy his opponent personally. His surrogates, such as Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), know it. The media sycophants who flog the Bain and tax-return stories know it. And the voters, who are inundated with over-the-top, grainy photo-filled negative ads with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer know it.

The “real game plan” is character assassination. That is an implicit admission by the president and his spinners that the economy is awful, Obama has failed to meet his own expectations, and the recovery in comparison to every other modern economic rebound is paltry. Because that places such a heavy weight on Obama’s standing, the character assassination must be just as damaging, just as compelling as all of that anti-Obama sentiment. He must be a “felon” and “liar” and hate the poor. He must be a job “outsourcer” and a “wimp.”

The irony is the Republicans nominated the least dogmatic, most charitable and most straight-arrow guy in the primary. They picked the guy who has plans for rescuing FDR and LBJ’s entitlement programs from bankruptcy. And yes, the guy who devised a health plan for his state.

The cognitive dissonance one must maintain between the real and the caricatured Mitt Romney is great. It requires a nonstop attack machine and a compliant media.