Mitt's weird excuse for why he lost in 2012 -- and how it totally undermines his hopes for 2016

Romney says that a good economy doomed his White House hopes. So how does he win next year when it's even better?

Published January 13, 2015 8:30PM (EST)

Mitt Romney                          (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Mitt Romney (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

As my colleague Jim Newell noted yesterday, Mitt Romney's exploration of another presidential run in 2016 relies on some rather peculiar logic. Though Romney once signaled he was unlikely to enter the contest if Jeb Bush did -- the two men's donor base would overlap too much, the thinking went -- the 2012 GOP nominee may toss his hit into the ring despite Bush's clear intention to run, in large part because Romney thinks Bush's work in private equity may make him a poor general election candidate. In other words, Romney may challenge Bush because he thinks Bush is too much like Romney.

It seems that bizarre rationales will figure prominently in any Romney 2016 campaign. The latest evidence? Slate's John Dickerson reports that Romney is telling potential supporters that he lost to President Obama in 2012 because, with an incumbent opponent and a good economy, the deck was stacked against him. This time, Romney insists, will be different. Of course, Romney's case marks a sharp turnabout from the campaign, when he insisted that the economy was in the crapper and that only by tossing out Obama could voters hope to see a real recovery.

What makes Romney's argument odder still is that come next year, he'd be running against an economy that will almost certainly be performing far better than it was in 2012. On Election Day that year, the national unemployment rate stood at 7.7 percent; it's now 5.6 percent, the lowest rate since the spring of 2008. In the third quarter of 2012 -- the last full one before the election -- the economy grew at a rate of 2 percent; compare that with 5 percent in the third quarter of 2014, the fastest rate in more than a decade. For the entire year, the economy expanded 2.3 percent in 2012. This year, the Federal Reserve forecasts a growth rate between 2.6 and 3 percent, while the central bank predicts growth of 2.6 to 2.9 percent in 2016.

To be sure, as figures like Elizabeth Warren have noted, the recovery has left many workers behind. But ordinary workers faced even greater hardship two years ago, and Romney still couldn't pull off a victory. Now, his 2012 postmortem also takes into account that he was facing an incumbent president -- and it's true that it's far harder to dislodge a sitting chief executive than it is to win an open contest. But assuming the economy continues its upward trajectory, voters next year will likely reward Obama's party, which bodes well for probable Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, as The New Republic's Danny Vinik outlines. There are any number of scenarios in which the economy could take a turn for the worse -- a full-blown euro-zone crisis or further geopolitical instability, for instance. But if Romney thinks that a good economy proved fatal to his 2012 hopes, he probably won't like what 2016 has in store.

By Luke Brinker

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