If there was one phrase that has become the focus of the US Presidential race’s initial months of campaigning, it’s economic credibility, or the lack of it. Although voting remains months away, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have already spent millions on conventions, campaigning and negative advertising to convince the US electorate that they can rediscover the prosperity that adorned the US economy during the majority of the ‘90s and ‘00s, but neither are yet to convince the wavering electorate.
Romney’s economic credibility has been steadily torn apart by a long, damaging year of campaigning. First of all by his own Republican colleagues, most notably Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in the Primaries; a race that wasted both energy and funds and, while it briefly threatened to open up, Romney’s nomination was never in much doubt, but managed to fracture the party in several places. The latter described Romney’s private equity company, Bain Capital, as “looting” vulture capitalism and now the well-oiled election machine at the White House has got its teeth into the company, condemning it for outsourcing jobs to foreign competitors, closing branches and Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns from his time there. However, this constant bombardment of criticism isn’t exclusive to Romney. The right wing media has been relentless over the past four years in criticising Obama for implementing “socialist” policies, becoming reminiscent of the infamous McCarthy witch hunt of the 1950s.
In appeasing the doubts within his own party, Romney has shifted even further to the right. Picking conservative fiscal hawk Paul Ryan as his running mate underlines the internal battle he faces to gain conservative credibility and highlights the importance of the far right in the party, especially the Tea Party. However, in his attempts to win over his party in the Primaries, he could cost himself the election.
It’s away from the economy where Romney really struggles, however, as he attempts to deal with the increase in media scrutiny that inevitably comes when applying for the most powerful job in the world. His foreign tour proved to be a disastrous series of gaffes that looked woefully unpresidential, his attacks on ‘Obamacare’ have been undermined by an almost identical plan he implemented when Governor of Massachusetts and his less conservative stance on social issues has not only failed to energize the grassroots of his party but have led to one of his far right Republican colleagues, Rick Santorum, to call him the “worst Republican in the country” to face Obama. But there is no doubt that this election is a referendum on the economy and, while Romney may bleed votes on some of these subplot issues, the economy is where he continues to make ground on Obama.
Obama’s credibility at the head of the world’s largest economy has taken the same hit the first Friday of every month when the latest job statistics are released, showing stagnant growth and little progress in unemployment figures. In Obama’s defence, he has faced the same stumbling block in passing bills that could create jobs and revive the economy, Congress. After the 2010 Midterm elections, the Republican Party regained the House of Representatives and have brought legislation to a standstill, as job and stimulus bills proposed by Obama get rejected repeatedly or filibustered in the Senate. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the public; Congress currently has its lowest approval rate in history, with just 10% approving Congress’s contribution to the last four years of legislative deadlock. However, it is a double edged sword for Obama. Emphasising this lack of control makes him look weak and his handling of the economy seems out of control.
While Obama’s Vice President, Joe Biden, boasts that “Osama Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive”, the Obama campaign is one major economic blow from defeat, but a couple of months of steady growth from victory. Be it instability in Europe, unemployment figures or the three television debates, the following months will be crucial and could sway the election in favour of Romney, or hand Obama a resurrection.