Why Mitt Romney's 'Economic Lightweight' Jab Misses the Mark

When Mitt Romney tries to sound like a lion, he sounds even more like a lamb.

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To my surprise, former Gov. Mitt Romney is still trying to decide whether to tell the accountant's truth or the ecstatic truth.

Have you noticed he's using the same put-down—"economic lightweight"—to describe both President Obama and former Sen. Rick Santorum?

Julie Hirschfeld Davis of Bloomberg News reports from the primary campaign trail in Illinois:

"I don't think we're going to replace an economic lightweight with another economic lightweight," Romney said yesterday at the Machine Shed Restaurant in Rockford, Illinois, referring to Santorum, 53, and the president. "To beat Barack Obama, it's going to take someone who understands the economy in his bones, and I do, and I will beat him with that understanding."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

Romney employed the "economic lightweight" jab against Obama elsewhere in Illinois, according to John Hoeffel of the Los Angeles Times:

"You see, the president learned about the economy by reading about it, not by living it  ... He learned about the economy by probably debating it in subcommittees here in Illinois and subcommittees back in D.C. I learned about the economy by living in it."

A few points. First, I think by now it's fair to say grassroots Republicans expect more from Romney than to merely deride the president's lack of real-economy experience. A "lightweight": Is that all Romney thinks Obama is? This fatally undercuts the potent paranoia, as peddled by Stanley Kurtz, that Obama is a cunning radical.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

If Obama is just a tyro who learned about economics from congressional subcommittee hearings, why on Earth should we believe Romney when he says that Obama is trying to abolish our merit-based society and replace it with an entitlement-based one? How could a "lightweight" accomplish such a feat? Does Romney seriously believe that a sitting president, nearing 50 years old, misunderstands the economy in much of the same fashion as a college sophomore?   

Secondly, from the perspective of simple messaging, isn't it confusing to conflate Obama and Santorum? If such diametrically opposed figures are both "lightweights," that doesn't tell us very much about what they actually believe, does it?

[See a collection of political cartoons on Rick Santorum.]

Thirdly, it seems to me that Romney doesn't wear bluster well. (On a personal level, I would say this is a point in Romney's favor.) He calls himself the "heavyweight" of the race, but then threatens Obama that he will "beat him with that understanding." Watch out, boys. There's a new sheriff in town—and he's about to open up a can of understanding!

To sum up: Romney's message here is muddled and flaccid. And when he tries to sound like a lion, he sounds even more like a lamb. He famously told us he won't light his hair on fire, but he's not very good at lighting a match, either.

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