WITH ONE ILL-ADVISED political statement about the deadly attack on the US embassy in Libya, Mitt Romney ensured that another week would go by when the focus of the presidential campaign wasn’t on the economy. There have been many such weeks recently, with nearly as many causes — Romney’s insult to the British during the London Olympics, Clint Eastwood’s bizarre empty-chair monologue at the Republican convention. Each of these has set off an uproar, and then, just as Romney was preparing to “pivot back to the economy” — BAM! He’s reeling again.
But grim as these episodes have been for the Romney campaign, they have always been accompanied by the fortifying hope that this time, if they can just keep it together, the dreadful economy will await them at the other end. More than anything, the economy was supposed to smooth his path to the White House. His strategy from the outset assumed that the fundamentals are so weak that Obama couldn’t win reelection. No incumbent has won a second term with the unemployment rate above 7.2 percent — and Ronald Reagan only won in 1984 because the economy was recovering so rapidly from the 1982 recession.