Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is once again getting a disproportionate share of attention for alleged 'gaffes' compared to President Obama. The latest, a dubious Democratic claim that Romney flip-flopped in his remarks upon the state of the economy during the Obama administration, made Wednesday's print edition. It comes courtesy of Jim Rutenberg, following Romney on the campaign trail in New Hampshire: 'Romney Questioned on Critique of Economy Under Obama.'
But as Mr. Romney has finally started to campaign in earnest over the past couple of weeks, the dangers of his perceived leading status are coming into view, with a more intense focus on his every word. And in the past few days, it has revolved around three words in particular: 'things are worse.'
During his campaign swing through this crucial state this week, Mr. Romney has been faced with repeated questions about the consistency of his commentary on President Obama's handling of the recession and the subsequent economic recovery.
To recap: On Thursday, when asked by a journalist in Pennsylvania to jibe his assertions that 'things are worse' under Mr. Obama with various signs of economic improvement since the president took office, Mr. Romney replied, 'I didn't say things are worse,' adding, 'What I said was the economy hasn't turned around.' Democrats accused him of 'flip-flopping' on a central assertion of his candidacy.
Attending Fourth of July festivities in New Hampshire on Monday, Mr. Romney reasserted that 'the recession is deeper because of our president' and that the recovery was more anemic because of him as well. (The recession was declared officially over as of June 2009, but the recovery, especially in employment, has been weak and inconsistent.)
Notice Rutenberg never actually quoted Romney saying the phrase 'things are worse,' though that's certainly how a reader would interpret his quotation marks. Times Watch could not locate an instance of Romney uttering the phrase in quotes, although Romney has used various iterations of what he said during his presidential announcement: "Barack Obama has failed America. When he took office, the economy was in recession. He made it worse." But that's not quite the same thing.
Ace of Spades untangled the web of the media and the Democratic Party accusing Romney of a flip-flop:
Again, there is no, and was no, flip-flop.
There are two separate questions:
1. Did Obama make the recession worse than it otherwise would have been? Romney's answer, as well as every Republican's answer (pretty much) is "Yes."
2. Is the economy currently worse than it was in January 2009, when Obama took office? His answer is "I didn't say that." It would be hard to make this case, and few do.