Maybe this election will be remembered as the "It's the jobs, stupid" election, but who knows? It certainly is the central issue the public cares about, and it certainly seems to be the subject that the campaigns are fighting most viciously on the airwaves. This is probably as it should be, a presidential campaign waged on the "No. 1" issue in the political realm. But Mitt Romney, it seems, wants to use one yardstick for his own jobs record and another for Barack Obama's. Stunningly, he is attempting to use both at the same time, hoping nobody will notice.
Thankfully, the "Plum Line" blog over at Washingtonpost.com did notice, and labeled the Romney arguments "surreal."
The Romney campaign reportedly just sent out some spin on Obama's jobs record as president versus his own jobs record as governor of Massachusetts. The talking point Democrats have been using (which his Republican opponents had previously been using) is that Massachusetts was "47th out of 50 states in job creation" during Romney's term -- and it is quite obviously getting under Mitt's skin. So he's conveniently rewriting his own record to make it look better. This is what spin is for, of course, but Mitt has just opened the door for a realistic comparison of the numbers, even if the Romney team (or the Obama team, for that matter) hasn't realized it yet.
After slamming Obama for a "net loss" in jobs, the Romney camp then offers up this gem:
Governor Romney Inherited An Economy That Was Losing Jobs Each Month And Left Office With An Economy That Was Adding Jobs Each Month. After taking office at a time when the state was losing thousands of jobs every month, Governor Romney's focus on fiscal responsibility helped create an environment where job growth returned to Massachusetts. Job growth increased throughout his term and the state added over 40,000 payroll jobs during his final year in office -- the best year of job growth in Massachusetts over the past decade. Household employment grew by nearly 50,000 under Governor Romney and the unemployment rate declined to well under 5%
In other words, don't blame Romney because things were bad when he took office; instead, look at the fact that by the time he left things were on a much better track and once he turned things around, jobs were added. While he's trying to measure Obama's job performance with a "net loss" yardstick -- in other words, Obama hasn't created as many jobs during his term as were lost during his term. Which, of course, measures job losses and gains from Obama's first day in office -- precisely what Romney is telling reporters not to do for his own record. The sheer level of chutzpah is astounding. Romney is, in essence, saying, "look at my collection of apples -- and then please compare it to Obama's oranges." The disconnect is starkly obvious.
The Obama team really should pounce on this. Send out a press release that copies the above paragraph under "this is what Mitt Romney is saying," and then offers up the following rebuttal:
President Obama Inherited An Economy That Was Losing Jobs Each Month But Now Presides Over An Economy That Is Adding Jobs Each Month. After taking office at a time when the country was losing three-quarters of a million jobs every month, President Obama's focus on fiscal responsibility helped create an environment where job growth returned to the United States of America. Job growth continues to steadily increase throughout his term and the country has added over 4.2 million private-sector jobs during the past few years -- two and a half years of unbroken private-sector job growth. Since President Obama stopped the disastrous job losses he inherited, the unemployment rate has come down a full two percentage points.
Instead of Romney's apples compared to Obama's oranges, this paints a very accurate picture instead -- and it is precisely what Obama has been saying all along: don't blame me for the first year's hole we all had to dig our way out of; look at my record since we turned things around.
Even if Obama only serves one term in office, and even with some disappointing job creation before the end of the year, he is still probably on track to leave office with a (very small) net gain in jobs -- which further undermines the yardstick Romney's trying to use (Romney's point will degrade over time, to put it another way). If Obama posts a few decent job growth numbers in the next few months, this will become pretty obvious to anyone who can do basic math.
The Obama team really should jump all over this, because it reinforces the negative image of Romney they're trying to present to the public: of a man who will talk out of both sides of his mouth and say anything to get elected. Put together a quick ad:
[Start ad with background image of Romney's head with two faces, as the Roman two-faced god Janus] "Governor Romney is trying to use one set of numbers for himself, and another for everyone else. It's typical how he wants to have things both ways, in fact. A recent press release [Show Romney's bullet point text here, in stark black-and-white] stated that Romney "inherited an economy that was losing jobs each month and left office with an economy that was adding jobs each month." Romney wants reporters to measure his record by one yardstick, but refuses to measure President Barack Obama's record using the same yardstick. Obama inherited a national economy much worse than Romney did in his state. [Show graph of job losses and gains since Obama took office] Since then, Obama has turned the economy from losing almost 800,000 jobs per month into an economy which has shown two and half years of private-sector job growth. Obama's job creation record is better than Romney's, when you use the same measure. [Pan slowly out, on an image of a table with a pile of apples next to a pile of oranges] But Romney doesn't want you to figure that out -- he wants one set of numbers for himself, and another for the president. He thinks you won't notice how he's juggling the numbers so he can talk out of both sides of his mouth on the issue. He thinks you're not smart enough to notice."
Romney's using such a ridiculous double standard plays into a lot of things all at once. It paints him as a one-percenter, since we all know one-percenters have their own creative accounting methods that the rest of us don't use. It plays into Romney as the man who will say anything to get elected. It plays in to the flip-floppiness of Romney. It plays into the "fairness" theme that Obama's been hitting recently. Most importantly, it gives an enormous green light to the Obama team to make the point that Obama should only be held accountable for job growth since we stopped falling off the fiscal cliff he faced on Day One. "We're just using Romney's standard," is all that needs be said anymore when these statements are challenged.
To achieve all of this, all the Obama team has to do is run an ad and point it out, to spur the political chattering classes to talk about it. Maybe my suggested ad is too wordy. Maybe the point could be better made. But it's definitely a point worth making. Romney himself just opened a very wide doorway -- "let's use this standard to measure job creation" -- and if Democrats push hard through this doorway, it is going to pay off throughout the entire campaign. From this point on, whenever any Republican (Romney or a surrogate) tries to slam Obama's job-creation record, all a Democrat will have to say is: "Well, let's put it in perspective, shall we? Let's just use the standard that Mitt Romney uses to measure his job growth performance as governor, that's fair, isn't it?" If used repeatedly, and if followed up with a raft of stats to prove the point, the media will eventually even pick up on the trend and start asking Republicans themselves: "Well, how can you say that when Romney measures his own performance differently? Why is Romney allowed to use this double standard?"
So, to the Obama team and Democrats in general: when your opponent presents such a gigantic hole in his logic -- a moon-sized crater, in fact -- it behooves you to take advantage of such a monstrous opening. Romney has just entirely changed the debate over jobs. He has now put his marker on the table for how job growth is to be measured. Hold him to his own standard! Tie this standard to him until election day! Drive the point home, every chance you get. The only recourse Romney will have in response is to disavow his own campaign's talking point. In other words, to flip-flop. Making this about as perfect a political opportunity the Obama election team could ever hope to get. The only question is whether they'll realize it, and start immediately using it.
Chris Weigant blogs at:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Become a fan of Chris on The Huffington Post
HuffPost Politics brings you the top political stories three days a week. Learn more