Romney and Obama Prepare For The “It Coulda Been…” Campaign

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Photo: White House / flikr

President Obama and Mitt Romney will run "It coulda been" campaigns.

Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.  They are three words of regret for athletes, jilted lovers, investors, just about anyone with corrective hindsight.  They are also the words that will define the campaign messages of President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  Both will use the words to defend their economic policies.

If the economy remains sluggish or declines, President Obama will say, “It coulda been much worse.”  His argument is he entered office facing the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression. Mr. Obama will argue that even though we have not completely recovered, his policies kept the economy from completely collapsing.  Democrats used the “It coulda been much worse” message  in the 2010 mid-term elections. It didn’t work as the unemployment rate remained above 9 percent, well above where it was when President Obama took office.

If the economy continues to improve the coulda, woulda, shoulda burden falls to Mitt Romney.  He argues that yes, the economy was in the dumps, and yes, the economy is getting better, but it coulda been a lot better if I had been president.  Romney will argue President Obama’s increasing government debt and regulation have stifled business growth.

Ronald Reagan in 1984 found himself in nearly the same position President Obama is now. Soon after Reagan took office the unemployment rate soared, going from about 7  percent all the way up to 11 percent.  But by the time he was campaigning against former Vice President Walter Mondale, the unemployment rate was falling and back to that 7 percent mark.  Walter Mondale chose not to run a  It coulda been better campaign, instead focusing on equal rights for women, rising deficits and promising to raise taxes.   Reagan won in a landslide.  Mondale probably shoulda not promised to raise taxes.

Bill Clinton  successfully ran it a coulda been better campaign in 1992 because he had two things on his side.  An economic recovery from a recent recession had yet to take hold and President George H.W. Bush woulda coulda shouda not reneged on his “Read my lips, no new taxes” pledge.

In 1996 Bob Dole tried the It coulda been better tactic.  The US economy was recovering from a recession, but slowly.  Bob Dole argued the  federal debt and taxes were too high and stifling business growth.  Sound familiar?  It didn’t work. Clinton won in a landslide.

The challenge to an incumbent president is always an I coulda done better campaign.  But because of a near economic disaster followed by a very sluggish recovery, 2012 adds a new element of the unknown. Voters will have to assess the unknowable – Is it possible the economic crisis could have been worse and President Obama saved it?  Or is it possible the recovery could have been better if Governor Romney was in charge?

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