Am I Unfair to Romney?

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Following up on my piece from earlier this evening, TPM Reader LF says I’m not being entirely fair …

You have mentioned a few times that Mitt does not have a Plan B if the economy itself does not beat Obama. But as much as I like to pile on Mitt (and boy does he deserve it), I think that is not entirely fair to him.

There really is no Plan B. President Obama is still pretty well liked, he is still possibly the best orator to hold the office in a half-century, he has a bunch of accomplishments* that are both historic and broadly popular (college loan reform, alternative energy investment, Lilly Ledbetter, not to mention leaving Iraq, ObamaCare, and killing bin Laden). People trust him and tend to agree with him. If the unemployment rate were 7.5%, still an historically risky number for an incumbent President, and a weak number for the economy, where would the polls be? And if it were at 6.9%? The reality is that the economy has artificially deflated Obama’s numbers. With a decent economy, we would be looking at an epic landslide, akin to Reagan in 1984.

Jindal, Christie, Rubio, Daniels, Bush, Ryan (sort of), and even Palin all took a pass at running in 2012, and I think most of them made the calculation that they could not beat Obama, even with an 8%+ unemployment rate. Now I suppose that it is possible that a better candidate plus a bad economy could team up to beat Obama under the current conditions. But Mitt is not the worst possible candidate (I mentioned Palin, and then there are the other goobers that did run), and even maybe a better candidate could not win. So it is hard to blame Mitt for not having a Plan B. Walter Mondale hoped that age would beat Reagan, and had no Plan B. And Bob Dole never really had a Plan A against Clinton.

*Other Republicans might have been able to run against ObamaCare, but the polls show that it’ negatives are only a result of the mandate and the fact that a certain portion of the public wants a more progressive law, so that would not work as well as Newt and Santorum like to believe.

I freely concede there are some pretty solid points here. And as I said in my private reply to LF, it’s certainly true that the electorate thinks the President is doing a decent job, it’s going to be really hard for anyone to unseat him or her. And double humor points for saying Bob Dole never even had a Plan A. Actually, he kind of did have a Plan A, run against Clinton circa June 1995. But back to the subject at hand. At some level, it’s certainly true that if the economy didn’t sink Obama it was going to be hard to beat him. But I think there’s a bit more to this.

As recently as a couple weeks ago, the top generals in the Romney camp were stuck on the idea that Obama cannot win with unemployment this high. Can’t. And if evidence suggests otherwise, just give it time.

I’m reminded of this column which Byron York wrote on September 10th …

Mitt Romney and his top aides are running an essentially faith-based campaign. Whatever the polls say at the moment, whatever the pundits say, whatever some nervous Republicans say, Team Romney simply does not believe President Obama can win re-election in today’s terrible economy. The president may appear to be defying gravity now, but he can’t keep it up through Nov. 6.

Whether Romney could have done anything else if his team thought Plan A might not pan out I don’t know. But I think York was on to something here. Maybe not quite arrogance but a deep faith in an unproven hypothesis — enabled by a contemptuous disrespect for their opponent which blinded them to some of his assets as a candidate.

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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