Political Animal


March 20, 2012 3:09 PM A Choice, Not a Referendum

By Ed Kilgore

I wondered yesterday if Mitt Romney was deliberately striking a new tone on the economy by noting that it was improving, or had just forgotten his the-economy-is-a-disaster-vote-for-change message.

According to Mark Z. Barabak and Paul West of the LA Times, Romney was indeed executing a pivot, not committing a gaffe:

Mitt Romney entered the presidential contest as Mr. Fix-It, saying his business know-how was precisely what could rescue the struggling economy from its deep and devastating slump….
But after months of steady job growth, improved consumer confidence and big gains on Wall Street, the economy seems in less dire need of fixing, and Romney has been forced to alter his message or risk seeming out of touch.
“I believe the economy’s coming back,” Romney said at a breakfast stop Monday in Springfield, where the former Massachusetts governor campaigned ahead of Tuesday’s Illinois primary.
But he gave absolutely no credit to President Obama — “the economy always comes back after recession” — and insisted the administration’s policies had made matters worse and the recovery slower than it should have been…..
[I]f the slow but steady improvement continues and Romney hangs on to become the GOP nominee, the choice presented to voters in the fall could rest on a pair of abstract arguments: one candidate saying he would have done better and the other insisting things could have been worse.

WaPo’s Greg Sargent draws attention to the fact that Romney strategist Stuart Stevens is quoted in the LAT article, discussing the new economic situation and its impact on the campaign’s message. So this truly is a pivot—and not just for Mitt, as reflected in a separate but parallel statement by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus suggesting (in defense of Rick Santorum) that the election would not be “about” unemployment rates, but “about freedom” and ObamaCare.

This is a really big deal, folks. Up until now, Democrats have endlessly worried about how to make this election revolve around a choice between two candidates, two parties, two agendas, and two sets of principles—instead of simply being an up-or-down referendum on life—particularly economic life—over the last four years. It looks like GOPers are already conceding the point, and trying to stake out the best possible ground for their side in a straight-up choice.

That could still change, of course, if the economy goes sharply south again, or even fails to steadily improve between now and November. But for the moment, I’d say this is the best strategic development for the Obama campaign since it became obvious the GOP field was going to be a mess.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • boatboy_srq on March 20, 2012 3:22 PM:

    Romney's making the best case for a contest between economic recovery and the consequences of GOP principles since Herbert Hoover.

  • reidmc on March 20, 2012 3:26 PM:

    Absolutely. Immigration policy, health care policy. . . many things will have some impact on the election outcome, but short of a terrorist attack on US soil the condition of our economy July through October will determine the winner, just like it did in '08.

  • california_idiot on March 20, 2012 3:30 PM:

    So it is possible that some of the other potential GOP candidates saw this coming and decided not to run in the first place, which is why the GOP field is such a mess?

    Just wondering.....

  • Mitch on March 20, 2012 3:34 PM:

    Reince Priebus is kind of right. This election is "about freedom" more than anything else.

    The freedom to live outside of the control of the rabid theocrats, heartless plutocrats and mindless zealots that make up the GOP. It's about the freedoms we have fought so hard for since the end of the middle ages. It's about the freedom to avoid the modern-day serfdom and Third World anarchy apparently desired by modern "conservatives."

    A vote for Obama is a vote for freedom. Period.

  • Remus Shepherd on March 20, 2012 3:35 PM:

    It's more difficult to find an example where Mitt Romney *isn't* pivoting on an issue.

  • zandru on March 20, 2012 3:53 PM:

    "pivot" - "gaffe" - "lie" - after awhile they all blur together in an amorphous fog of dishonesty.

  • Duge Butler Jr. on March 20, 2012 11:08 PM:

    I'm confused. If Romney believes that the economy truly recovered all on its own (which IMHO it did NOT), then nothing Obama did or didn't do wouldn't have made any difference, right? Also, I'm sure Romney coincidentally failed to mention the record-breaking Republican filibusters against all of President Obama's economic polices (well, actually, just about everything he and the Democrats in Congress proposed from 2009-present). The Republicans in Congress sure didn't do anything to help the economy by being so severely obstructionist. In fact, last year they ended up HARMING the economy by taking the battle over the debt ceiling to the brink and ended up costing us a more favorable credit for the first(?) time in our history! What chutzpah!!!!

  • Texas Aggie on March 21, 2012 12:31 AM:

    “the economy always comes back after recession”

    Not always. In terms of unemployment it never recovered from the recession that Bush started with. The reason it never recovered is that Bush instituted the very same economic policies that the Tea Baggers, Romney, Santorum and Gingrich all want to institute, but this time on growth hormone. In other words, if you liked Bush's record for employment stagnation, you'll just be ecstatic about the republican program if they get control of any of the following: White House, Congress or Senate.

  • bob h on March 21, 2012 7:17 AM:

    For most the "economic freedom" Republicans talk about is the freedom to be dirt poor.