Romney can't win on economic platitudes alone
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- Mitt Romney's choice of a running mate won't save his campaign. The only one who can do that is the candidate himself.
But the current speculation about potential vice presidential candidates is reminiscent of the flavor-of-the-week hype that marked the Republican primary campaign, when the party seemed anxious to have anyone but Romney.
Last week, it was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who was seen as the perfect triple-play running mate -- closing the foreign policy, gender and African-American gaps in one fell swoop. And before that it was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio who could close the Hispanic gap.
This week, the buzz is all about Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman and budgetmeister whose youthful charisma and putative economic expertise could bolster a presidential candidate his party has yet to warm up to.
But whether it's Ryan or Rice or Rubio -- or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to close the perceived wimp gap or New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte for that gender gap -- the choice won't help Romney win the election any more than William E. Miller helped Barry Goldwater win in 1964, or Geraldine Ferraro helped Walter Mondale in 1984, or Jack Kemp helped Bob Dole in 1996.
The top of the ticket is all that counts. After all, it wasn't Hubert Humphrey who boosted Lyndon Johnson to victory in 1964, or George H.W. Bush who enabled Ronald Reagan to win in 1980, or Al Gore who tipped the scale for Bill Clinton in 1992.
After a disastrous month when the Democrats used Romney's vacation and foot-in-the-mouth trip abroad to Swift Boat him on his Bain Capital record and tax returns, the Republicans are casting about for ways to help their presumptive nominee.
It's not like the economy -- the hammer Romney was using to pound President Barack Obama -- has improved. In fact, in the absence of any new monetary stimulus by the Federal Reserve and significant action by Congress to address the fiscal cliff, the economy is more likely to soften further between now and November rather than improve.
The voting public, however, seems to have become inured to the sluggish economy, and the Democrats have successfully distracted Romney from his focus on the issue.
But there's more to it than that. It is perhaps enough to run on Republican platitudes in a primary contest where you're preaching to the choir. But that won't cut it in a general-election campaign where your rival is challenging you on the assumptions behind your claims.
Romney's budget plan is so full of holes, the Congressional Budget Office can't even score it. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center made assumptions favorable to the candidate and found that it increased the tax burden on the middle class.
The Romney camp couldn't disprove that but claimed increased economic growth would lift middle-class incomes so much they wouldn't even notice.
But aside from saying that further unpaid tax cuts will spur economic activity, Romney has no prescription for growth, either. Or a prescription for anything, really, except the familiar nostrums that less tax and regulation will free the economy.
The faithful might buy that, but the appeal to the magic of the marketplace has waned for a general public traumatized by the rogue behavior of the big banks and the transparently self-serving attitude of American companies that have taken their jobs overseas and kept their profits there, too.
And this is just the economy -- Romney's supposed strong point. It doesn't even get into the very real gender and minority gaps the party faces in a general election.
So Romney raised more money than Obama last month. Right, we get it: Millionaires and billionaires love the Republican Party.
And the media, in its wisdom, seeks to make the campaign a real horse race to keep people watching and reading.
But Intrade, the "free market" predictor of elections, currently has Obama's chances of winning the election at nearly 58% and Romney's at just short of 40%.
The aggregation of polling data at the Huffington Post shows states that are "strong Obama" or "leaning Obama" with 290 electoral votes -- over the hurdle of 270 to beat Romney even if all the "toss-up" states go for the Republican candidate.
Clearly the race is not over, but, just as clearly, Romney is behind.
His choice of running mate won't win the election for Romney. The economy won't win it for him, either. And it's doubtful that any amount of super-PAC money can decisively change the trend.
The only chance Romney really has is to demonstrate the policies and leadership and character that will convince voters he would make a good president, or at least a better one than the one we have. He has three more months to do that.