Since it became obvious in early March that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee, conventional wisdom had it that: 1) Romney was a weak candidate; 2) the Republicans would have a base problem; and 3) President Obama surely would win.
Over time, the first two prongs of conventional wisdom melted away. Romney delivered thoughtful speeches (at Liberty University, in Iowa), showed readiness to duke it out (on Bain Capital) and displayed deft aggressiveness (going to Solyndra). With his increasing proficiency and a series of self-inflicted wounds by the president (e.g., "Life of Perpetually Dependent Julia"), the conservative base warmed to Romney. The more negative and caustic the president became, the more Romney seemed to radiate Reagan-like cheery calmness.
And yet the chattering class seemed comfy in the certainty that the economy was good enough and Obama's favorability advantage big enough to ensure his reelection.
Once again these assumptions crumbled in the course of just a few weeks. Romney has largely made up the favorability gap. And then the economic shoe dropped when jobless and growth numbers went from mediocre to rotten.
The Post's Dan Balz reported:
" May's dismal jobs report and some unexpected words from Bill Clinton delivered a bracing reminder to President Obama and his advisers that the election remains primarily a referendum on his record and that their path to victory may lie less in trying to discredit Republican Mitt Romney and more in winning a battle of ideas with their Republican rival."
The New York Times fretted in an awkwardly constructed headline: "Weak Economy Points to Obama's Constraints." Translation: Obama's lousy performance on the economy is a big problem for him. Or, as the Times would have it, the poor dear is at the "mercy of actors in Europe, China and Congress whose political interests often conflict with his own." There is no shortage of excuses, you know.
Whatever you think is the cause of the economic doldrums, it has now dawned on the Democrats and the press that Obama could lose this thing. And, indeed, the economy might just get worse given that Obama refuses to deal with the "fiscal cliff."
In reality, Romney was never as poor a candidate as the left dreamed and the grouchy right wing feared.
And Obama's poor economic results were always going to be a problem. But May's especially poor economic figures acted as a rude wake-up call, shattering the confidence that Obama would not just win, but win with some ease.
With the collapsing economy, other Obama stratagems also become problematic. Is railing at the profit motive so smart right now? Will the public be distracted by ploys like tying Romney to Donald Trump or a concocted "war on women"? All of that seems counterproductive and decidedly unserious.
We still have five months to go to election day. Romney may make mistakes or stumble in the debates. Promising economic signals may be spotted. International events may work to Obama's advantage (e.g. support for Israel in the event of a strike against Iran). But if you're a betting person it might be smart to put some chips down on Romney; he's a steal on Intrade right now.