The Big GOP Hopeful Question: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Obama?

Romney backtracks on saying Obama made the recession worse

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After a spring of gleeful Obama-bashing, some of the Republican presidential candidates are easing off their attacks on the president, the Los Angeles Times' Rep. Michele Bachmann became nationally famous by wondering if the Obamas had "anti-American views," but when she announced her candidacy in June, she said the country's problems were "created by both parties." At a campaign stop in South Carolina, she promised to be "the unifying candidate." Meanwhile, Mitt Romney--who this week found some common ground" with Ted Kennedy--is easing up his attacks on Obama's economic record--maybe too much.

Of course the candidates can't be too nice to Obama--otherwise they'd have no reason to replace him. So Romney, at least, as adopted a new format. "The president's a nice guy, and I know he's trying, but he doesn't understand how the economy works," Romney said at a stop in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Thursday, coming close to the classic Southern insult formula (all Romney needed to do was tack on "Bless his heart" at the end.) Romney was standing in front of a boarded-up factory that Obama visited December 2009, citing it as an example of a business saved by the stimulus. The factory closed the next month, Romney said, because even though "it survived the Great Depression... It couldn't survive the Obama economy." He continued,

"Now the president says, 'Just give me more time' and 'It could have been worse.' ... It couldn’t have been worse for the people who worked at this plant. For them, this is as bad as it gets."

That's a slightly softer version of what Romney said at the primary debate in New Hampshire in June, when he said Obama "didn't create the recession, but he made it worse and longer." He said the same thing at a campaign stop earlier this week. But after his Allentown speech, NBC News' Sue Kroll pointed out that the economy is growing and the Dow is above 12,000--is the economy really "worse"? Romney replied, "I didn't say that things are worse. ... What I said was that economy hasn't turned around..."

That's where Romney might have gotten too nice, The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza says, calling the candidate's reversal "stunning." Lizza predicts Romney will "almost certainly" have to change his position again later in the campaign. Some conservatives are already accusing Romney of flip-flopping--"Of all the things to backtrack on, he picks something he was actually right about," Weasel Zippers says. But maybe Romney, occasionally portrayed as a classic uptight Northerner, just hasn't quite mastered the art of the gentle Southern put-down. This is how it's done:

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