Why focusing on the economy might not be enough for Mitt Romney

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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It’s very obvious that Mitt Romney has decided to make the economy the issue in the campaign. That requires avoiding, parrying,  or downplaying other issues, ranging from Fast and Furious to immigration, in order to steer the conversation back to the economy — the issue he thinks he wins on.

This, of course, seems logical.

TIME’s Michael Crowley, however, makes an interesting point:

The 1980 and 1992 elections suggest that beating an incumbent in times of economic distress might require campaign themes that go beyond the economy. Reagan pounded Carter over foreign policy and the size of government. Clinton was brimming with policy ideas, including a major health care plan. And, crucially, in both cases the challengers were more likeable–or at least seemed so on television. … It’s obviously ominous for Obama that both those incumbents lost. But it’s possible that that Romney is doing him a favor with his light touch on issues other than the economy.

Assuming Mr. Crowley is correct, what explains this phenomenon?

Here’s what I wrote back in February.

[H]istory does not seem indicate that a struggling economy — regardless of who is to blame — or who currently occupies the White House — will ultimately benefit the Republican candidate in a general election. (This, of course, is controversial. Jimmy Carter’s handling of the economy was surely one cause of his 1980 defeat, but would he have been defeated had it not been for the Iranian hostages?)

The trouble for Republican presidential hopefuls trying to make hay of a struggling economy is that, when times are hard, liberals can always out-promise and out-class-warfare their adversaries. Thus, national elections that focus instead on foreign policy or cultural issues have tended to skew more favorably to the GOP.

H/t Andrew Sullivan

Matt K. Lewis