Mitt Romney goes after President Obama on the jobless rate in an op-ed in USA Today as the undeclared Republican presidential candidate works to solidify his position as his party's establishment pick for 2012. Romney writes that Obama "didn't cause the recession, but he made it worse and caused it to last longer." Given that Romney isn't much liked by evangelicals, the economic focus could be a shrewd campaign move, moving the fight to a different field.
The former Massachusetts governor argues that the growing acceptance of a high unemployment rate is a lot like what Daniel Patrick Moynihan described in Defining Deviancy Down, which explained "how American society came to condone previously stigmatized conditions and behavior." While Moynihan talked about mental illness, single parenthood, and inner-city violence, "to his examples, we can now add joblessness." (Whether Romney agrees it was a good idea to institutionalize the mentally ill remains unclear.) But Romney argues against another stimulus, saying it's "like putting a cup of gasoline on a fire, it produces heat only for a very short time."
NBC News' First Read team notes that when the monthly jobs report comes out Friday, it will be more clear how good a weapon unemployment is against Obama. They add that his op-ed shows Romney is trying to preserve his general election strategy without getting caught up in the fights among GOP primary contenders. And The Hill’s Michael O'Brien says Romney is hoping to appeal to voters who are nervous about the economy. It makes sense for Romeny to focus on economic issues instead of social ones, since a Pew poll finds Romney isn't popular among evangelicals and Catholics. Though Romney has the strongest support of potential runners thus far, with about 20 percent of Republicans favoring him, only 15 percent of white evangelicals like Romney while 29 percent like Huckabee. Romney, however, gets the most votes among mainline Protestants, Ben Smith notes.