Romney to Governors, "Your Optimism is Not Helping"

Mitt Romney has a problem. His campaign is centered on the notion that President Obama has been uniquely disastrous for the economy. In his telling, Obama’s policies—including the stimulus and the Affordable Care Act—were responsible for the rapid job losses that marked 2009, and the sluggish growth we’ve seen since then. Indeed, the Romney team routinely hits Obama for losing more than 500,000 jobs over the course of his term. This isn’t true, but that hasn’t stopped Romney from running with the figure.

Of course, the problem with running on a lie is that, occasionally, reality intrudes. Growth isn’t as high as it needs to be, and economic conditions are improving, especially in states disproportionately hit by the recession. What’s more, many of those states have Republican governors who are eager to tout economic growth. For example, in Florida, embattled Governor Rick Scott has been eager to tout the state’s recovery. Florida was among the states that suffered most from the foreclosure crisis, and in 2009, the state’s joblessness rate shot to 14.5 percent. Since then, unemployment has dropped to 8.6 percent; still above the national average, but a huge improvement.

But, as Michael Bender notes for Bloomberg, this puts Romney in a bind. How can he run against Obama’s economic record—or at least, a fictionalized version of it—when his allies are essentially touting the effects of his rival’s policies? In the case of Florida, the Romney campaign has asked Governor Scott to go easy on the optimism. Here’s Bloomberg:

Romney’s presidential campaign asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to tone down his statements heralding improvements in the state’s economy because they clash with the presumptive Republican nominee’s message that the nation is suffering under President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the matter. Scott, a Republican, was asked to say that the state’s jobless rate could improve faster under a Romney presidency

Similarly, in Ohio, unemployment has declined from a high of 10.6 percent in 2010, to its current level of 7.3 percent. Still high—relative to pre-recession levels—but a substantial decline nonetheless. And like Scott, Ohio Governor John Kasich is upbeat about the economy. Even still, Romney uses Ohio as an example of Obama’s failure, despite the fact that the state’s economy was saved—in part—by the administration’s bailout of the automobile industry. This was most awkward last month, when Kasich campaigned for Romney by praising the state’s economy, while Romney blasted Obama for failing Ohio’s economy.

Most evidence suggests that, come election time, voters care most about the national economy, and as long as its struggling, Romney is in good shape. Still, there’s a small danger in this message flub. In order for Romney to win, he needs to pretend that the economy is far worse than it is. But, if voters hear a Republican governor and a Democratic president praise the economy—and see evidence of improvement—they might actually feel that the economy is doing well. In which case, Romney’s job is much harder.