What Happened to Romney’s Focus on the Economy?
Several months ago when the general election began in earnest the Romney campaign said they would keep a laser focus on the economy. The idea made sense. President Obama’s job approval rating on the economy is very bad and at the time, at least, Romney had an edge on which candidate voters thought would be better able to handle the economy. Yet this promised focus never seemed to materialize, with the Romney campaign instead behaving highly reactive. Week after week the economy took a back seat to other issues and distractions.
First there was Romney’s refusal to release more than two years of tax returns. At least a week was spent speculating what he was hiding and having the Romney team asked in a dozen different ways why he won’t release any more.
The speculation about Romney’s tax returns was temporarily put on the back burner when he named Paul Ryan as his VP pick. This though didn’t put the focus on the economy as the Romney campaign claimed they wanted, but instead put the focus on Ryan’s budget. The big political topic for a week was whether or not Medicare should be voucherized. Instead of talking about the economy, Romney was defending a very unpopular change to Medicare.
The focus on Ryan’s Medicare plan was only really shifted again when Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin made his “legitimate rape” statement. This brought abortion to the forefront of the political news cycle for a least a week. This made the Romney team try to awkwardly dodge the issue and try to down play just how far outside the mainstream Ryan’s position on abortion is.
The only other thing that got a lot of political traction at this time was Romney’s welfare attack ad, which was widely attacked for being inaccurate and is an issue only tangentially related to the economy.
The Republican national convention was the Romney team’s big chance to make it all about the economy, but if that was the goal it failed. The most talked about things from the convention were the incredibly dishonesty of Paul Ryan speech and Clint Eastwood arguing with an empty chair. Even the keynote address on day one seemed to be more about Gov. Chris Christie promoting Christie than a conversation about the weak economy.
Now with the conventions over and Romney losing his advantage on the economy the political conversation has again shifted to a new non-economic topic, foreign policy. The demonstrations in the Middle East basically guaranteed that foreign policy would dominate the news for days, but Romney’s ham handed early statement was poor way to address the shift.
I think it would be unfair to say that Romney’s economic message hasn’t worked. I think it would be more accurate to say their economic messaging never really existed. The promised focus never materialized. If the Romney team’s goal was really to make this election all about the economy, they have so far failed by basically losing control of the news cycle almost every week for months. With only 50 days to the election that does not bode well.