Suddenly, a Romney presidency no longer seems like a fantasy
JASON EPSTEINShould former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney defeat President Barack Obama in November, many Beltway pundits will cite two eye-opening events over a 12-hour period between last Thursday and Friday as the race’s symbolic turning point.
The first shock was a Bill Clinton interview on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” in which he contradicted the Obama campaign’s attempts to disparage Romney’s corporate record, particularly when he was running a private equity firm. When asked about the Republican candidate, the 42nd president replied, “There’s no question that … the man who has been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”
Clinton was the not the first Democrat to stick up for Romney and private equity, but he remains the Tywin Lannister of his party, those words resounded like a thunderclap. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd saw it as a clear signal that “he considers Obama a lightweight who should not have bested his wife” during the 2008 Democrat primaries.
Michael Barone of the American Enterprise Institute analyzed Clinton’s viewpoint from a policy perspective:
“Start with the fact that class warfare themes have less appeal than some people think. The 2008 exit poll told us that 26 percent of voters had household incomes over $100,000. Half of them voted for Obama. He needs those votes again.”
Surprise number two took place the following morning, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that a mere 69,000 jobs were created in May, less than half what had been anticipated and the lowest number seen in a year, while the national unemployment rate ticked back up to 8.2 percent, the first increase in 11 months. Coupled with the earlier news of a downward revision in the gross domestic product’s modest growth rate for the first quarter, it became apparent that even a tepid recovery had run out of steam.
The bad news came at a most inauspicious moment.
While the rise “might prove to be a blip in a trend line that had been slowly improving for months,” a Boston Globe report explained, “it comes as many voters are forming opinions about the race. President [Ronald] Reagan was in office when the rate reached 10.8 percent, but by this time in Reagan’s re-election bid, the rate had dropped to 7.4 percent, and he won re-election.”
Obama’s supporters blamed the poor figures on outside forces – this time, the Eurozone crisis – while alternatively pointing out that the economy had added jobs for a 27th consecutive month, a defense unlikely to persuade Americans increasingly dissatisfied with the White House’s economic stewardship.
The Pew Research Center discovered in April that neither the president nor his opponent had a “clear advantage” on the issue. “Those who say the economy [86 percent] and jobs [84 percent] will be very important to their vote divide their support almost evenly between Obama and Romney.”
And last month, Gallup found that 55 percent of Americans said the economy would improve four years from now if Romney were elected, while 46 percent said it would be better with Obama at the head.
To be sure, Romney deserves a measure of credit for his improving fortunes after enduring a grueling and vicious primary season. Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei recently observed, “Romney has surprised his many critics with a clear and consistent focus on the economy, hands down the issue of the race.” Richard McGregor of the Financial Times marveled at the campaign’s possession of the “efficiency and ruthlessness necessary to win presidential elections and combat Mr. Obama’s own well-resourced and hardened machine,” characteristics the GOP lacked in 2008.
Five months remain before America’s voters cast their ballots and both campaigns will continue to experience highs and lows, but it is clear now that a Romney victory is closer to reality than fantasy.
*Jason Epstein is President of Southfive Strategies, LLC, in Washington, DC. He may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.