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January 30, 2012

Romney: "Of course the economy's getting better..."
Updated & Bumped: Longer Quote Added; Link Added

Goldberg discusses this statement of Romney's, made on the Laura Ingraham show.

Of course it’s getting better. The economy always gets better after the recession. There’s always a recovery. There’s never been a time anywhere in the world where an economy has never recovered. The question is how is recovered by virtue of something the president has done or has he delayed the recovery and made it more painful? And the latter, of course, is the truth.” “The president’s policies have made the recession deeper and have made the recovery more tepid and more difficult on the American people. This is the worst recovery that we have seen from a recession since Hoover. And President Obama wants to take credit for things getting better, he’s in fact made things worse. He’s made this recovery take much longer, but, will our economy get better someday? Of course it will.

And it will not be thanks to President Obama, it will be in spite of President Obama, and that's of course the message we have to give. If people think the right course for improving an economy is to massively expand debt and the federal government, why of course they can vote for Obama. But we know better.

This surprised Ingraham.

When Laura asked Romney if that’s a hard argument to make — that “Obama is making the economy better, but vote for me,” Romney replied: “Do you have a better one Laura?”

Goldberg lays out some alternate lines Romney might have deployed.

Although I'd like to see Romney sharper on this, it seems to me that Romney is seeing two moves ahead and planning for contingencies.

If you're arguing a case at law, you tend to make contingency arguments. "Your honor, my client did not kill that man, and, even if he did, he was out of his mind on peyote at the time and could not legally form the required intent to make him guilty of murder."

Romney is making a contingency argument here. What if the economy continues improving? A lot of people pooh-pooh this, but in fact Romney's sense is correct: The economy generally does improve... at least until it doesn't. Even during the Great Depression, there were long periods when the economy seemed to be on the mend (only to suffer another shock).

Here's my belief:

If the critics of Romney here are right, and that the economy will continue deterioriating, Romney needs to make no argument at all.

That's like playing chess when you're up a rook, a knight, and a queen. Assuming you don't make some catastrophic rookie own-goal error, you win. Period.

Fans of the "Obama killed the economy and it's dead until we get someone else in office" argument should bear in mind that if you're right, the election is going to be a very, very, very difficult thing for Obama to win.

But if you're playing chess, you do not make moves assuming that your opponent's moves will be awful. You assume your opponent will make great moves, the best moves possible, and you play your game with that assumption.

That analogy doesn't quite work here, but I analogize "opponent's moves" to "the electoral environment."

If the economy deteriorates further -- if there's a second dip -- if Europe experiences a credit crisis and that contagion hurts the American economy -- then Romney really needn't make much of an argument at all. (Only on that last one can I see the need for any kind of argument -- Obama will claim that this is just happenstance and he shouldn't be blamed for it, and etc.)

But what if present conditions continue, with the economy slowly, microscopically improving? What if GDP grows 2.0% through the next year -- which is very anemic growth for an alleged "recovery," and yet still is in the positive column?

In that case, you do have to make the argument. And the argument will be:

1. The economy can be expected to grow some on its own. Obama should not have credit for a natural rebound of the economy.

2. The economy grew despite Obama's policies, not because of him.

3. The economy grew at a much more anemic rate than it should have, due to Obama laying burden upon burden on already overtaxed wealth-generators.

And so forth.

I don't see much advantage to a campaign strategy of saying "The economy is definitely, definitely going to get worse under Obama."

Indeed, it might. I think there's a reasonably good chance it will.

But the American economy is robust and hard to kill -- despite Obama's best efforts.

If we have a second dip, Game Over.

But why plan for that? Why build a campaign around the assumption of a nearly automatic-win scenario?

If that scenario comes to pass, great, collect your Presidential Election Trophy.

And if it doesn't?

I don't want to be in the situation where we have no shot at winning just because the economy managed some very anemic growth in GDP and some very modest reductions in unemployment.

I want a candidate planning for that eventuality and making arguments based upon the assumption of that eventuality.

And if it gets worse for Obama -- then it gets worse for Obama. Bonus damage.

Goldberg's right that Romney must reiterate all the horrible things about this economy whenever he's asked about it. But the basics of noting that there is, in fact, GDP growth, tepid as it is?

It's not like the MFM isn't going to tell people that. Any candidates' argument must be along the lines Romney suggests -- yes, we are having weak "growth," but not of the type usually associated with a true recovery, and that's Obama's fault.

Update: Here. The discussion begins around 5:20.

I've added more to one of his quotes above. At around 7:45, he notes that the unemployment rate is dropping chiefly because of discouraged voters exiting the workforce.

And him taking credit for people becoming so desperate that they drop out of the work force altogether is a very weak position from which he'll be campaigning.

All of this sounds pretty reasonable in full context. Check it yourself. It's about three and a half minutes, 5:20 to 8:00.

He also says he expects there's a pretty good chance the economy will go into a second dip, but can't predict that.

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