If the Economy's Improving, Why Should the GOP Settle for Romney?

By Michael Brendan Dougherty

Republicans were supposed to hold their noses because only he could fix the economy. Now they can they choose someone they like.

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There might not be any reason for Mitt Romney to exist anymore, as a Republican candidate anyway.

The entire rationale for Mitt Romney's candidacy was that he is a "turnaround artist."

As a private-equity guy he helped make dying companies profitable again. He's the one who saved the Salt Lake City Olympic Games from financial disaster. He helped to balance an out-of-control Massachusetts budget without a tax raise (he did raise fees). But it looks like the economy is already turning around. Unemployment keeps going down. Jobless claims are doing better than they have in decades. Investors are happy. At the campaign stops we've been at, Romney has been saying that the American economy was always going to recover, but Obama made the recession longer and more painful than it had to be.

But no one will care if the recession is ending.

Even the Washington Examiner's conservative columnist Tim Carney is wondering what the point of running Romney would be.

But what if unemployment continues to drop? What if it's below 8 percent come October and the payroll numbers published Friday, Nov. 2 -- four days before Election Day -- show things getting better? History, in this case, suggests that Obama would be a strong favorite. New York Times pollster and statistician Nate Silver determined that the trend of unemployment numbers is one of the strongest determinants of an incumbent's re-election chances.

According to Daniel Gross, Mitt Romney could plausibly be call four different states a "home state", Michigan, California, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. He's being outpolled by Obama in all of them.

And the past month the news-media hasn't been talking about jobs, or jobs, or jobs. It has been about the Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood, about whether Catholics must provide free contraception to their employees, about gay marriage bans being overturned by Federal courts.

Mitt Romney can be taught to sing from the conservative hymnal on these issues, but he sounds out of tune on them. He's happy enough to represent social conservatives on these issues, but it clearly isn't the reason he got into this race. He's most comfortable talking to a Chamber of Commerce, not the American Life League.

Of course, things could turn for the worse in the economy. Europe's meltdown could change the equation for investors in the U.S., Moody's could downgrade our major financial institutions, the rising foreclosure rates in some areas may send financial instruments tumbling again. But, do you really want to pin your election hopes on disasters that haven't unfolded?

Romney is still in a great position to become the nominee. He has the money and organization to beat any of the Republicans. The most likely conclusion to this race is that Romney is the nominee announced at the GOP convention in Tampa.

But the Republicans may have a hard time answering the most important question about their nominee: Why him?

This article originally appeared at Business Insider, an Atlantic partner site.

Image: Reuters

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/02/if-the-economys-improving-why-should-the-gop-settle-for-romney/253248/