So far, Mitt Romney has focused heavily on reminding voters about just how bad the economy is (replete with all the relevant stats).
But that's the easiest part of the argument.
Now Mitt needs to convince voters that Barack Obama is responsible for that, and voters seem a little less willing to immediately buy that argument.
From my story this morning...
Clearly, voters are buying Romney’s first argument — that the economy is deeply troubled.
Still, even if Romney wins that component of his argument in a landslide, there’s no guarantee he’ll earn any votes from it. In order to do that, he has to convince voters that the economic mire around them is Obama’s fault.
At first, it would seem a fairly easy argument; after all, Obama is the incumbent and has been president for almost four years.
But voters have proven surprisingly stubborn at pinning blame on the man who preceded Obama. A Gallup poll released last week showed that 68 percent of adults said Bush deserved a “great deal” or “moderate” amount of blame for the economy, while just 52 percent said the same about Obama.
In that context, it’s clear why it’s not enough for Romney to merely convince voters it’s a bad economy. He has to also pin responsibility on Obama, and the president has been doing everything possible to distance himself from culpability, reminding voters at every turn that he inherited a deeply troubled economy and a massive deficit.
Slate’s William Saletan recently noted that over the past seven months, Obama’s speeches have regularly emphasized “the rising inequality, stagnant wages, middle-class insecurity and paltry employment growth” of the Bush years.
The advantages of this history lesson for Obama are obvious. The worse voters think the Bush years were, the more latitude and patience they’ll give Obama in correcting the country’s course.
“When I said ‘change we can believe in,’ I didn’t say ‘change we can believe in tomorrow’ … We knew this was going to take time,” Obama said at a fundraiser in Chicago last August, arguing that the magnitude of the task demands more patience.
But Romney is starting to focus more squarely on assigning blame for the economic mess of the last four years on the guy who’s actually been president for the last four years.
On Monday, he released a Web video that featured a clip from 2009 in which Obama tells supporters that he’s eager to accept responsibility for the country’s economic growth.
“I welcome the job. I want the responsibility. Give it to me,” the president says.
A bit later, Obama adds, “My job is to solve problems, not to stand on the sidelines and carp and gripe. So I welcome the job. I want the responsibility.”
Yet Romney claims that carping and griping is precisely what Obama is doing when he points out the country’s economic woes under the Bush administration.
“Maybe he’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s the Republicans,’ ” Romney mocked at a campaign stop in Wisconsin, “but you know, he had a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate for his first two years. He gets full credit or blame for what’s happened in this economy.”
In the end, it’s up to voters to sort out who bears the blame. While Gallup’s survey showed voters’ sympathies for Obama’s argument, his approval rating is dangerously low for an incumbent president and a bleak mood imperils any president — no matter how deeply voters sympathize with him.