Via the Daily Caller, here’s her restatement of the question on everyone’s mind. You could make the same point this way: Just how high would unemployment have to be to make this an easy win for Romney and the GOP? Ten percent? Higher? Or, paradoxically, would higher unemployment rates somehow further absolve Bambi of culpability? A million variables inform a voter’s choice but there must be some hypothetical degree of economic lethargy that would make a qualified challenger — and Romney is qualified, whatever else you think of him — a prohibitive favorite. How much pain are voters willing to suffer before turning the dial?
I think Peter Beinart makes a good point about the degrees of pain here being relative:
Mitt Romney is not a great candidate; Barack Obama is a better one. But without the Bush legacy, Romney would be leading this race. His problem is that except among staunch conservatives, Bush has so hurt the GOP’s brand that Romney doesn’t look like the fresh economic fix-it man that Republicans want to portray him as. Instead, it’s all too easy for Democrats to paint him as George W. Bush the 3rd, just as they painted John McCain as George W. Bush the 2nd…
Romney’s problem is that like Dewey in 1948 or Dukakis in 1988, his personal brand is weak. To win the primaries and gin up core conservative support, he has amputated those parts of his political persona that might have allowed him to come across as something other than a generic Republican. And unfortunately for him, when Americans think of a generic Republican today, they still think of George W. Bush.
Yeah, again, the convention was supposed to solve this problem to some extent, but “humanizing” Romney doesn’t really distinguish him from Bush. Bush was plenty capable of personal warmth, so much so that I think it’s one of the reasons his favorable numbers have rebounded to respectable levels as quickly as they have. The boldest move Romney’s made to distinguish himself from Dubya was to put Ryan on the ticket and symbolically renounce the profligate ways of the GOP’s not-too-distant past, but even that’s not a total break from Bush. Ryan voted for Bush’s and Paulson’s bank bailout when the financial crisis hit, and Dubya himself made a halting attempt at entitlement reform when he pushed private Social Security accounts at the start of his second term. In fact, the whole thrust of Romney’s and Ryan’s Medicare rhetoric since the ticket was set is that they’re fighting to preserve the basic framework of the welfare state but reforming it so that it’s fiscally sustainable. That’s a smart way to blunt Mediscaring attacks, but it’s not some sort of dramatic libertarian break with “compassionate conservatism.”
Meanwhile, on foreign policy, Romney’s trying to out-tough Obama on Iran while talking tough on both Russia and China, which arguably frames him as even more hawkish and muscular than the (in)famously hawkish and muscular Bush. Like Beinart says, the Romney brand just isn’t very distinct — except for RomneyCare, which is problematic in many ways — so a lot of swing voters may simply be defaulting to Dubya as a model for what Romney would deliver. And when the choice is framed that way, between a guy whose presidency saw the financial crisis detonate and a guy who’s done terribly in trying to recover economically from it, it’s no slam dunk.