Hey, it’s First Friday

    A sluggish economy, tepid job growth, and a chief executive trying to spin the news as best he can:”…Look at the numbers. I came in, and the jobs had been just falling right off a cliff. I came in, and they kept falling for 11 months. And if you are going to suggest to me that somehow the day I got elected, somehow jobs should have immediately turned around, well, that would be silly. It takes awhile to get things turned around. We were in a recession, we were losing jobs every month….I’m very pleased that over the last two, two and a half years we’ve seen pretty consistent job growth.”So said Mitt Romney, governor of Massachusetts, in 2006. Plagued by weak hiring, he defended himself. He said that a robust recovery would take time, that he shouldn’t be blamed for the conditions he faced at the outset of his tenure, that he should be duly credited for digging out of the hole he inherited.But the ’06 Romney has been Etch a Sketched. The ’12 Romney is delighted that President Obama has been saddled today with another tepid monthly economic report, because therein lies political opportunity. Yes, folks, it’s First Friday again. Only 80,000 jobs were added in June, and the nationwide jobless rate stays at 8.2 percent. Romney interrupted his vacation today, at one of his many homes, to demand that Obama “stand up and take responsibility” for the economy. Meanwhile, his Republican allies have already pounced, citing the weak hiring as proof of Obama’s “failed economic stewardship,” and cutting him no slack for digging out from an inherited historic recession.Hey, that’s politics. Incumbents typically take the hit for bad economic news – as Romney well understood in 2006, when he bailed at the end of his one gubernatorial term amidst sagging poll numbers. In hard times like these, it’s so much easier to be the challenger. He can blame Obama in all the ways that he resented back in 2006 when the blame was directed at him.Today’s bad news for America is also good news for Romney on another front: It changes the subject. Romney had been reeling for weeks – Obama trumped him on immigration, the Supreme Court trumped him on health care reform. Romney fares badly when he’s not talking about the economy, and now he can do so again because it’s the topic du jour.Plus, the new jobs report could quell the growing restiveness about his candidacy on the Republican right. In recent days, Romney has been hammered by Rupert Murdoch (who tweeted that Mitt “seems to play everything safe”), by the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal (yesterday, the right-wing editorial page called Mitt “politically dumb”), and by conservative talking head William Kristol (who compares Mitt to a pair of Massachusetts Democratic losers, Mike Dukakis and John Kerry).Kristol complained in a blog post yesterday that Romney is spending too much time on “autopilot,” in the delusional belief that he can win the White House by simply blaming Obama for the economy. Kristol said that Mitt’s one-trick-pony strategy “still strikes me as a path to (narrow) defeat.” But maybe the Mitt strategy looks wiser today. At least for today.Only time will tell (excuse the cliche). Despite three straight months of weak hiring, Obama is still slightly ahead in the national polls – and comfortably ahead in pivotal Ohio, according to the latest Quinnipiac University survey – and that’s because the national jobless rate is not the sole criterion of candidate viability. Romney’s long tenure at Bain Capital is also in play (the private equity firm’s top priority was to enrich its investors, not to create jobs), especially in the Rustbelt, and so is his infamous resistance to the auto industry bailout (the latest report shows a big jump in sales).Meanwhile, the public mood is complicated. According to the latest CNN/ORC poll, 73 percent of Americans say that the current economic conditions are poor. That’s a big boon for Romney, right? Nope. The same survey reports that registered voters are split virtually 50-50 on whether Romney or Obama can best handle the economy. If the economy is currently so miserable, logic suggests that Romney should be far ahead on economic stewardship. Yet, clearly, something is holding him back. Namely, him.Meanwhile, 60 percent voiced optimism that the economy would be in better shape next year. This finding suggests that Obama is making headway with his argument that things are (slowly) getting better. It’s true that no president since FDR has been re-elected with a jobless rate north of eight percent, but if I were Romney, I wouldn’t want to peg my candidacy on the perpetuation of a factoid.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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