Lots of Republicans want Mitt Romney to be Ronald Reagan, the last Republican challenger to defeat a Democratic president in a weak economy. Reagan's name -- or Jimmy Carter's -- is invoked at just about every turn -- even when the better-than-expected jobs report Friday showed unemployment dropping to 7.8 percent. Which highlights one of the many well-documented ways Romney is not like Reagan: his message is a downer. Just look at his press release in response to the jobs numbers, in which he said:
"This is not what a real recovery looks like. We created fewer jobs in September than in August, and fewer jobs in August than in July, and we’ve lost over 600,000 manufacturing jobs since President Obama took office. If not for all the people who have simply dropped out of the labor force, the real unemployment rate would be closer to 11%..."
Under a President Romney, he said, there would be a "real recovery." Other Republicans reacting to the report brought up the R-word. "The workforce participation rate hasn’t been this low since Jimmy Carter was President," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said. "To punditry claiming this secured an Obama victory, Carter lost to Reagan with unemployment hovering at 6 percent. 7.8 percent ain't worth bragging about," tweeted one Republican Hill staffer. There have been so many Reagan-Carter analogies you barely notice them anymore. Gingrich compared Romney to Reagan after his Republican National Convention speech in August. "Like Reagan, Romney can still win," The Washington Post's Marc Thiessen wrote October 1, predicting Romney's debate dominance. "Republicans to Mitt Romney: You're no Ronald Reagan," Politico's James Hohmann wrote September 23, reflecting feelings that Romney hadn't been Reaganesque. Demanding a campaign management intervention September 18, The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan told Romney to stare "deep into the abyss," and, once properly chastened, hire Reagan's former campaign manager, James Baker.
But Reagan was known for his "sunny optimism," a persona that contrasted Mr. Sweater-Malaise Jimmy Carter. (He never said "malaise.") Look at Reagan being all sunny and optimistic in 1980. Reagan is so associated with "sunny optimism" ("Reagan had been caricatured as a cowboy who couldn’t be trusted with the reins of power, but his sunny optimism on the screen softened all his rough edges," Entertainment Weekly said this week of his 1980 debate) that it's a cliché liberals try to push back against ("The divisive underbelly of Reagan’s sunny optimism," Salon said last year).