Skip to main content

Will improving economy sink Romney?

By Paul Waldman, Special to CNN
updated 6:53 PM EDT, Fri October 5, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday.
HIDE CAPTION
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
133
134
135
136
137
138
139
140
141
142
143
144
145
146
147
148
149
150
151
152
153
154
155
156
157
158
159
160
161
162
163
164
165
166
167
168
169
170
171
172
173
174
175
176
177
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Waldman: Improved jobs numbers leaves Romney with a challenge
  • He says Romney's center shift accepted even in fractious GOP now just looking to win
  • He says Romney stock-in-trade is to be more of a manager of the economy
  • Waldman: An economic upturn gives Romney a tougher case to make

Editor's note: Paul Waldman is a contributing editor at The American Prospect and the author of "Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success." Follow him on his blog and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- With only a month to go before election day, things are moving fast in the presidential campaign.

Twenty-four hours ago it was nothing but good news for Mitt Romney, his campaign revived by a strong performance in the first debate. Then new job numbers came out, showing the economy adding 114,000 jobs in September, upward revisions to the July and August numbers, and a drop in the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent. The economic picture is full of ambiguity, and Mitt Romney's challenge only grows more complex.

Paul Waldman
Paul Waldman

So though it took longer than most people expected, Romney has finally made the "shift to the center" that all presidential candidates are supposed to make once they've gotten their party's nomination and no longer have to appeal to their party's base.

This has been a particularly tricky line for Romney to walk, since so many Republicans saw his transformation from Massachusetts moderate to fire-breathing, "severely conservative" (as he put it) candidate as utterly insincere. So another ideological re-imagining had to be handled carefully.

When it came in a debate in which Romney was performing with the skill honed in a thousand boardroom PowerPoint presentations, the timing was perfect. Conservatives had been at the point of panic, desperate for anything that would turn the race around. With Romney emerging from the debate with a newfound energy and momentum, they were more than happy to accept a more moderate nominee.

Opinion: Mitt is back to loving Massachusetts

And more moderate he did indeed seem. Regulations? He's happy to accept them: "Regulation is essential. You can't have a free market work if you don't have regulation." Tax cuts for the wealthy? Heaven forfend. "I cannot reduce the burden paid by high-income Americans." And that videotape in which he sneered at the 47% of Americans who won't "take personal responsibility and care for their lives"? After initially defending the remarks, he was ready to make a 180 on that too. Since Obama never brought it up during the debate, Romney went on Fox News the next day and told Sean Hannity, "I said something that was just completely wrong. When I become president, it will be about helping the 100%."

Romney: 'Completely wrong' on 47%
Obama fighting back after debate
Are the candidates 'Hispandering?'
Romney, Big Bird in Hitchcock spoof

You won't hear Republicans saying this newly moderate Romney represents a betrayal. First off, they're smart enough to realize that Romney hasn't actually changed any of his plans; all he's changed is how he talks about them. And second, conservatives have always been good at coming together when power is on the line. The right has just as many factions and just as much infighting as the left, but when Election Day approaches, they become deadly serious about the task at hand. There will be plenty of time for an ideological struggle over the GOP's identity once the ballots are counted.

Yet it has always been the economic ruling class that stands at the front of the line when the spoils of Republican victory are distributed. The social conservatives may have to wait for abortion to be outlawed and the neoconservatives may have to bide their time before the next war, but a Republican administration will always make tax cuts its first priority.

Opinion: Romney's demographic bind

Mitt Romney -- as pure a representative of that economic ruling class as has ever been nominated for president -- always had a twofold challenge on the economy. First, he had to convince voters that he is an effective manager with knowledge and experience. That was the easy part. Second, he had to assure them that he has their interests at heart. That second part is where the Obama campaign focused all its fire, attacking Romney as a heartless plutocrat who would toss his own grandmother in the street if he thought it would make him a few extra dollars.

I doubt Romney ever had any illusions that the American people would embrace him because he's such a lovable and charismatic fellow. It was one thing to smack down the assemblage of clowns he beat during the GOP primaries (recall that at various times the polls showed Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump leading the field), but defeating an incumbent president with considerable political skills is another matter altogether. So a struggling economy has always been the sine qua non of a Romney victory--and now the economic picture looks better than it did just a few months ago.

Avlon: The audacity of Etch a Sketch

As both sides understand, the trajectory of the economy matters more to voters than the place it is in on Election Day. We all remember Ronald Reagan's soft-focus, "Morning in America" ads from 1984 showing the country to be in the best of economic times. But when Reagan was reelected, unemployment was 7.2 percent, nearly as high as it is now. What mattered was that two years before, it had been 10.8 percent. Things were improving steadily, and that's what shaped voters' perception of the economy.

Today, we have an economy moving in the right direction, if not as fast as anyone would like, meaning neither candidate gets a clear advantage out of economic conditions. We have two candidates, both claiming that the middle class is their primary concern. But one of them just started saying it in the last 48 hours, and he's fighting against his own image and that of his party. It will be an uphill slog.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Waldman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 8:12 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT