Neil Newhouse, Romney's pollster, attempted to soothe worried Republicans last week by stressing that the race remains extremely close. But the fact that Romney's pollster isn't worried is itself worrying. By rights, Romney should be 10 points ahead. They seem to think the bad economy will automatically win this race for the Republican.
It isn't as if voters are unaware that the economy stinks. Consider that the morning after the Democratic convention, the dismal jobs report did not prevent Democrats from getting a bigger bounce than Republicans received. Three and a half years of miserably high unemployment, slow growth, increasing poverty, falling labor force participation, record-setting food stamp dependence and an average 5 percent decline in household income has not persuaded most voters to support Mitt Romney.
On the contrary, the Gallup job approval rating for Obama topped 50 percent after the jobs report for the first time since 2010. Job approval tends to be a good predictor of an incumbent's share of the vote. By contrast, George H.W. Bush, the last incumbent to lose reelection, stood at 39 percent approval at this stage in 1992. And Bush's economy wasn't nearly as dismal.
The Romney campaign has failed to make the case that Obama is responsible for the economy, whereas Clinton/Obama have made a spurious, but perhaps effective, argument that Republicans got us "into this mess" and will pursue policies that will be no better and may be worse.
The Democrats argue that Republicans want only to help their rich friends, not the middle class.
Romney needs an aggressive and bold response. After shooting down the lie that Romney and Ryan plan to increase taxes, they might begin by explaining how the 2008 financial crisis came about -- namely that both parties, mostly the Democrats, insisted that banks give mortgages to people who couldn't afford them. As Peter Wallison of AEI has noted, 74 percent of the bad loans were on the books of Fannie, Freddie and other quasi-government entities. When the crash came, it nearly sank our entire banking system. Voters may believe that Republicans favor the rich. But they also believe that Democrats are the party of giveaways. It was the Democrats' insistence on forcing private banks to make uneconomic loans that led to collapse.
Second, though Obama ridicules tax cuts, they have been responsible for bursts of economic growth every time they've been enacted. They worked for Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton and, yes, even for George W. Bush. The economy created 8 million jobs under Bush, and the unemployment rate averaged 5.3 percent. By contrast, there is no example of a nation or a state spending itself into prosperity. If that were possible, Greece would be lending Germany money, California would be in the black and Illinois would be a jobs hub.
Third, the signature policies of the Obama term -- Obamacare and Dodd/Frank -- combined with uncertainty about what Washington will do, are crushing the private sector. The Economist magazine has dubbed the 2300-page behemoth "Dodd/Frankenstein" because it vests so much unreviewable authority in bureaucrats, and drowns financial and other institutions in red tape. "Only 93 of the 400 rule-making requirements" had been completed as of February of this year, the magazine noted, two years after the bill's passage.
After Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, private sector job creation, which had been growing, slumped. A Chamber of Commerce survey found that 73 percent of employers cited Obamacare as an obstacle to hiring new workers. Not only does the law impose billions of new taxes and mandates, but, like Dodd/Frank, it vests so much authority in the federal bureaucracy that employers have no idea what to expect and cannot plan. Even if an employer were able to wade through the bill's 2700 pages, he would still emerge confused as to what the law demands. Obamacare creates 159 new agencies, bureaus and boards, and has generated 12,000 pages of regulations -- so far. It does include new hiring, though -- thousands of new IRS employees.
Obama is failing because his policies are wrongheaded and destructive. Uncertainty has kept capital on the sidelines. Obama has frozen employers into a defensive crouch. That is the case Romney has not yet made.