It's a well-known bit of election trivia by now that no president since FDR has won a second term with an unemployment rate above 7.2 percent, the number Ronald Reagan overcame in 1984. That shouldn't represent some magic threshold (see Nate Silver's analysis), but it's common sense and universally accepted that high unemployment is bad for President Obama's reelection hopes, and the worse it gets, the smaller his chances. The one person on earth who doesn't subscribe to this thinking may be David Plouffe, the mastermind strategist behind Obama's 2008 campaign. As Bloomberg reports:
“The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers,” Plouffe said. “People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on: ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?’”
It's true that the average voter doesn't open up the paper on election day and think, Huh, the unemployment rate is 8.5 percent, guess I won't vote for Obama. But the unemployment rate reflects the difficulty of finding a job, so when it's high, many people don't feel good about their "own situation," as Plouffe puts it. That's why the unemployment rate matters.
Plouffe, having more than a basic understanding of politics and an IQ over 45, surely understands this, and probably only intended to dispel the notion that some precise unemployment number would necessarily doom Obama. But he did it so clumsily that he handed Obama's opponents an easy opportunity to portray Team Obama as aloof and out of touch with the ongoing employment struggle, which is exactly what Mitt Romney did today in a scathing statement that connects Plouffe's remarks to June's disappointing job numbers:
"Today's abysmal jobs report confirms what we all know - that President Obama has failed to get this economy moving again. Just this week, President Obama's closest White House adviser said that 'unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers' do not matter to the average American. If David Plouffe were working for me, I would fire him and then he could experience firsthand the pain of unemployment. His comments are an insult to the more than 20 million people who are out of work, underemployed or who have simply stopped looking for jobs. With their cavalier attitude about the economy, the White House has turned the audacity of hope into the audacity of indifference."
This won't be the last you hear from Romney or the conservative blogosphere/cable-news vortex about firing Plouffe, but Obama would never throw him under the bus for something so minor. Plouffe is an integral member of Obama's inner circle and a brilliant strategist ... usually.