A Strategy that Won't Work

Yesterday, Mitt Romney dismissed the idea that President Obama had anything to do with preventing a Great Depression. If we can thank anyone, he declared, it’s George W. Bush:

“I keep hearing the president say he’s responsible for keeping the country out of a Great Depression,” Romney said at a town hall in Arbutus, Maryland. “No, no, no, that was President George W. Bush and [then-Treasury Secretary] Hank Paulson.”

In general, given the extent to which he’s still unpopular, it’s probably a bad idea for a Republican to mention Bush, much less praise him. And that’s especially true when you consider that Democrats will paint the Romney campaign as a throwback to Bush and his policies.

If you’re wondering why Romney would take this approach, look no further than the latest economic news:

The number of Americans claiming new unemployment benefits dropped to a four-year low last week, offering further evidence the jobs market recovery was gaining traction.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, the lowest level since February 2008, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 354,000 last week.

There’s also this:

A gauge of future economic activity compiled by the Conference Board posted a fifth straight monthly increase in February, climbing a healthy 0.7 percent in a sign of gaining economic momentum.

If the economy continues to improve, then the next best option for Romney—shorting of abandoning an economic message altogether—is to minimize the degree to which President Obama is responsible for the recovery, or anything else. This is something of a time-honored strategy for challengers who find themselves in unfavorable territory. In 1996, for example, Bob Dole gave Ronald Reagan credit for the improving economy:

Promising to ‘‘finish the job Ronald Reagan started so brilliantly,’’ Bob Dole today proposed a wide-ranging plan to spur the economy with $548 billion in tax cuts and a $500-per-child tax credit, all the while balancing the budget within five years. [Emphasis mine]

Of course, as Dole demonstrates, while other candidates have tried this strategy, it hasn’t ever worked. If the economy sees substantial improvement this year, voters will reward the president with another term, regardless of how much Romney tries to minimize Obama’s role in the recovery.