Mitt Romney, speaking about the economy this morning, said of the economy, "If I'm fortunate enough to become president, I'll care very deeply about it getting better in a big hurry." You could certainly ding Romney for the unstated corollary here – that he doesn’t care very much about the economy recovering quickly right now – and some Democrats probably will. It’s another example of Romney’s tendency, which I find charming, to do a poor job of hiding the cynicism that nearly all high-level politicians share.
Of course Romney wants the economy to stay down through November. He’s running for office, for Pete’s sake! And Romney surely believes in himself, believes that his election would bring wonderful things to the country, well worth any short-term economic pain. Any challenger who says he’s rooting for a strong economy is either lying or living in a fantasy world.
To be sure, many challengers probably are living in a fantasy world, imaging that their campaign is purely a clash of ideas or a struggle between personalities. But Romney clearly does not share this fantasy. One of the notable things about Romney’s campaign is the degree to which it is driven by political science.
Political science teaches us that election outcomes are driven primarily by objective conditions, the most important of which is the state of the economy. Bad economic conditions make incumbent presidents unpopular, and the job of a challenger is to get out of the way and let that predictable outcome work its will. “Obama Isn’t Working” is the campaign slogan of a man signaling to median voters that they should ignore any personal or ideological considerations and dutifully vote out the incumbent as the algorithms predict.
It’s not a bad plan at all. Though probably the smartest way to execute it involves pretending it’s not your plan and, say, doing a better job of concealing the fact that you’re desperately rooting for economic failure.