What Will Mitt Romney Talk About if the Economy Gets Better?
For the better part of two years, Mitt Romney has been relentless. “Four years ago, candidate Obama came to Nevada, promising to help,” he said in his victory speech after the Nevada caucuses on Saturday night. “Today, Nevada unemployment is over 12%, home values have plummeted, and Nevada’s foreclosure rate is the highest in the nation… Well, Mr. President, Nevada has had enough of your kind of help.” Swap out Nevada for another state, and perhaps some different metrics, and you get what Romney has told countless Republican crowds across the country. The impetus for his candidacy is simple: The economy is bad, so is Obama, and Mitt Romney is the guy with solutions to both problems. So what happens if the economy gets better?
The question’s not so far-fetched. Personal income is up, joblessness is down. The economy is far from a full recovery — pre-recession unemployment levels of 4% or 5%could be a decade away or more — but things are getting better, faster; in presidential elections the direction that the economy is heading is much more important than the numbers themselves. And despite Romney’s superhuman adherence to his Obama-as-economic-bugbear narrative, the possibility of sunnier days has not escaped the Republican candidate. In fact, it was once a given for his campaign.
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“I think President Obama will be difficult to beat in 2012, because I think an incumbent has extraordinary advantages,” Romney said in 2010. “He will do everything he can to get the economy going back again, and most likely — at least in my view — the economy will be coming back.” He continued: “Recessions do end. The economy recovers. It always has. It always will.”
This early stage of Romney’s proto-campaign was marked by a focus not on the domestic economy, but on foreign policy. “No Apology”, the title of Romney’s pre-presidential memoir, wasn’t just an attempt to shrug off charges of political cravenness that dogged him in 2008. The subtitle read, “The Case for American Greatness” and the book fronted an attack on Obama’s allegedly weak (and fictionally apologetic) foreign policy. As the recovery stalled and Obama kept crossing off bigger and bigger names from the al-Qaeda wanted list, this path became less tenable and Romney, who had never abandoned an economic message altogether, began to shift more of his time and energy into his domestic argument.
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So, if the pace of the recovery quickens, will Romney return to his crusade against Obama’s foreign policy? It doesn’t seem too likely. According to a new Washington Post/ABC News survey, international affairs and terrorism are two areas in which significantly more Americans trust Obama than Romney.