For the past two days I’ve watched President Obama get pummeled by pundits for his performance during the first Presidential debate. There was a lack of enthusiasm, they say. And let’s not forget about his failure to respond appropriately to Romney’s changes of position and out-right lies about his previously promoted plans.
I suppose that’s one way of looking at the debate.
But I see it differently. This was a debate about domestic issues where the economy and, more importantly, jobs took center stage. And as I read through the transcript of the debate again I find one thing missing: any substantive discussion about the President’s record on job creation.
As a matter of fact, Romney saved his only real jab against the President’s successes on the jobs front until his closing statement when he brought out his oft-repeated “We’ve had 43 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent.” But that was about it.
A year ago – hell, six months ago – common wisdom seemed to suggest that the President was going to get hammered on the economy and jobs non-stop until election day, and this was going to be Romney’s clear path to victory.
Republicans have done their best to convince Americans that the economy is still sluggish and would be much better if a Republican was in power. Each jobs report showing unemployment hovering above 8% – despite the number of new jobs added – was met with glee by Republican pundits and campaign staff.
The Obama Economy! That’s what they’ve been trying to call it.
But it hasn’t worked. Not at all.
OHIOANS SUPPORT THE PRESIDENT
That latest Washington Post poll in Ohio found 24% rate the economy as their most important issue, with jobs coming in second at 15%. That’s a full 39% of samples voters basing their choice on economic and jobs issues.
And who do they think is more likely to do a better job?
That same WaPo poll has Obama up 7 points over Romney when it comes to handling the economy. Quinnipiac has Obama up 5.
ECONOMISTS SUPPORT THE PRESIDENT
The Economist wanted to know what economic experts thought of Romney and Obama’s plans for the economy. They asked professional economists which candidate had a better economic plan and who would, long-term, be better for the economy. The President won hands down.
The Economist polled hundreds of professional academic and business economists. Our main finding should hearten Mr Obama. By a large margin they rate his overall economic plan more highly than Mr Romney’s, credit him with a better grasp of economics, and think him more likely to appoint a good economic team
NEW JOB NUMBERS SUPPORT THE PRESIDENT
When it comes to jobs, the Romney campaign only has one real attack they’ve been using against the President: that unemployment has been above 8%. Despite the fact that we’ve seen the creation, as the President points out during the debate, of 5 million jobs in the private sector in the past 30 months, the Romney campaign has focused specifically on the 8% unemployment rate because it’s the only real number they have to make their point.
Today they lost that. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their monthly jobs report this morning showing unemployment dropping to 7.8%.
Obama Economy. For some reason that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing anymore, does it?
WHY ROMNEY LOST THE DEBATE
Romney has tried to make the economy and jobs the central issues of his campaign. He’s positioned his business experience as the primary selling point, assuming voters would make the connection between success in business and the ability to provide successful leadership over the nation with world’s largest economy.
But voters haven’t been convinced. Neither have economic experts. And this is a huge problem when you’ve based your entire campaign on this one selling point.
Romney came into the debate on Wednesday desperate for Americans to buy in to the main messages of his campaign: the “Obama Economy” is a disaster and I’m the man to save you from it. He needed to sell them on his economic plan, his policies for creating new jobs and his ability to do a much better job than the current administration.
And, to be fair, he did some of that. And he did it with a lot of energy. Truthful or not, people now know that Romney does have an economic plan and that he supposedly has some ideas about creating new jobs. Hell, some people might even believe that Romney’s plan is slightly better than the President’s.
But that’s just not enough. Not this year.
If Romney was running against a non-incumbent during a time of economic stability, “slightly better” might work.
But in 2012, against this President, in this tentative-but-improving economy?
Mitt Romney needed to come into this debate and do more than just present an alternative plan. He needed to show us WHY we need to look for an alternative. He needed to convince us that Obama is failing us, the “Obama Economy” really is a disaster and the President is taking us in the wrong direction.
Instead, he presented an alternative that focused on tax breaks and drilling for oil and balancing the budget. All nice ideas, but not much different than what the president has been saying. Romney’s plan may or may not create 12 million new jobs. It may or may not give millionaires billions in tax breaks. But does it really matter?
If Romney can’t convince Americans that the President is failing, that they NEED to make a change, then it hardly matters what his slightly better alternative is.
Americans know the economy is not as strong as we’d like it to be. We don’t need Mitt Romney to tell us that. But we also know we’re much better off than we were four years ago when President Obama took office. Today’s great job numbers just help support what we already know. This is the biggest problem for Romney’s campaign.
Romney came into the debate 5 to 10 points down in important swing states, across important demographics and on vital issues like the economy and jobs. Romney needed to do more than just convince people he’s a likable guy and successful businessman who would be good for the economy.
Mitt Romney needed to convince people they need to make a change. He didn’t. And for that reason, and that reason alone, Mitt Romney lost this debate.