Democrats are reveling in the damage the GOP base has done to Mitt Romney’s chances to defeat President Obama in November. Between Todd Akin’s malapropist contribution to the political lexicon (“legitimate rape”) and Romney’s high-stakes embrace of his party’s latter-day Ayn Randians, Republicans seem undeterred by the Democratic caricature of the GOP as a mass of science-denying fundamentalists in service of a few greedy plutocrats.
But with two months until Election Day, Obama is deeply engaged in his own effort to persuade Americans to put faith ahead of facts in what was once the central battleground of the election: the economy. Over the past two weeks, even as the Democrats rallied to patriotic themes at their convention in Charlotte, several dismal economic reports have shown everything from slow job growth and manufacturing losses to flagging construction and faltering consumer confidence.
(PHOTOS: Democratic National Convention 2012)
As a result, Obama is not just unable to argue that he has fixed the broken economy he inherited but also is hard pressed to argue that the country is moving in the right direction. Which leaves him trying to convince Americans they’re better off with the sputtering economic recovery they know than the program Romney is offering.
The economic news is grim. August jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show an anemic 96,000 new jobs created and a continuing exodus of people from the workforce. Manufacturing activity is at its lowest level in three years. Construction spending fell for the first time since March. And in late August, a widely watched consumer-confidence index dropped to its lowest level since November.
How bad is it? Just months ago, as hopes of a rebounding economy grew, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke tempered expectations for further central-bank intervention in the bond market. Now the Fed seems poised to launch a new round of quantitative easing in hopes of goosing the economy.
For all that, the political consequences for Obama appear to be mixed. Democrats are touting the jobs gains over his tenure and have latched onto the auto bailout as the best evidence that his approach to the recovery can work if given time. That line of attack was distilled into its purest form by former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm at the Charlotte convention.
In theory, Romney should be able to use the recent bad economic numbers to fight back hard against such attacks. But the Republican nominee seems unable to turn his business success into political capital. If the latest poll numbers are right, Romney’s failings are somehow making reluctant Obama supporters out of voters in swing states, despite the dismal economic facts.