I’m a normal human being, and I like a good Mitt Romney joke as much as the next guy. But I confess I’m not quite getting what’s so funny about his reborn presidential intentions. Come on: None of us have the slightest idea at this point who’s going to stand up there at the podium in Cleveland in the summer of 2016 and accept his party’s nomination. (Presumably it will be a “he” doing it, but we don’t even really know that.)
Romney’s as plausible as any of the rest of them. Yeah, there’s the general “you had your shot” take. But that has been overcome, as we know. So I see little comedy in all this.
I do, however, see tragedy.
I don’t think Romney’s problem here is going to be his hair or his car-roof dog compartment or what kind of underwear he wears. I think his problem is going to be much more substantive and serious, to wit: If—and it’s still an if, but a considerably smaller if than it was six or even three months ago—the economy is humming along nicely over the next couple of years, he’ll have zero credibility.
This is the man who spent the better part of two years telling Americans, warning Americans, pleading with Americans to see that if they were to reelect that… man, the country was finished. We were going to turn into Albania under Enver Hoxha. Initiative would be sapped. Pluck would be suffocated. The very backbone of the nation would snap like a twig under the weight of the lumbering socialist uber-state that Barack Obama was bent on creating.
All right, my language there was a little flowery. But he did say in essence these things, and he said them over and over and over. He said, repeatedly, that Obama understood nothing about how an economy works. Remember the whole “you didn’t build that” nonsense? Aside from using rhetoric that was deeply misleading about what Obama had actually said, Romney and his campaign tried to argue that Obama’s remark demonstrated that the president took the “naïve view that government, and not the hard work, talent, and initiative of people, is the center of society and the economy.”
Romney also made repeated assurances to the voters that if they put him, a man of private-sector vision who would not enslave but would free our great entrepreneurial class, glories would materialize. What kind of glories? In May 2012, Romney promised that if he was elected, Americans could trust him to see to it that the unemployment rate, then at 8.2 percent, would be reduced to 6 percent by the end of his first term.
Whoop dee do. We’re only halfway to Romney’s target date, and the unemployment rate is 5.6 percent.
OK. Let’s go back to that if, because it’s real. As we all know, the lingering economic issue is wages. Virtually all other leading indicators are up. GDP is growing better than 5 percent, which is crazy good. But wages are stuck.
If that condition doesn’t change, then Romney will be entitled to a little bit of “I told you so.” If wages don’t go up, most people won’t feel better off, and if they don’t feel better off, he’ll have an opening.
But most economists seem to think that we’ll finally climb the wages hill this year. A few more months of 250,000-plus jobs created, they argue, and the slack in the labor market will eventually disappear. When the labor market tightens, workers can be more selective in choosing jobs, and this will drive wages up. That’s the general expectation, as I read things.
So in other words, what is likely to happen this year is that the economy will add another 3 million to 3.5 million jobs, GDP will stay high, and finally, wages will rise. And with them will rise not only Obama’s approval numbers but the sense that his economic stewardship has been solid in the end. And then in 2016? Well, who knows. Certainly, Hillary Clinton’s chief political concern might be that the economy peaked a bit early, and by the fall of that election year things won’t be quite so rosy as they promise to be this year. We tend to go six to eight years between recessions in recent history, so we might be due for one in 2016. But that’s just a might—there’s at least as much chance that by Election Day 2016, prosperity will reign.
Of course, I should note that the fact that the economy is doing well now is hardly all Obama’s doing. I suspect that if Romney were president, the unemployment rate would be right around… 5.8 percent. And oh, how conservatives would be fawning over him. See, they’d say: This never would have happened under that socialist.
But happen it did, whatever percentage of the credit Obama deserves. And it eviscerates Romney’s claim to be taken remotely seriously as a presidential candidate. OK, he was right on Russia, let’s give him his propers on that one. But on the issue Americans really vote on, the economy, he spouted so much nonsense on the trail, and made so many claims that are being proven so breathtakingly wrong, that he has all the credibility those Mayan whozit people had on the morning of Dec. 22, 2012, when the sun rose and the world had not ended the day before after all.
There are still things wrong with our economy, obviously. But those—chiefly, growing inequality, rising gap between wages and productivity—are exactly the things that people like Romney would make worse if elected. It will be up (presumably) to Clinton to make that case to voters. In the meantime, the only Romney joke that matters is the one that reality is playing on him.