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A spectacular failure of self-awareness

As attention shifts from Mitt Romney's private-sector work to his tenure as a one-term governor, the Republican campaign has a challenge: coming up with a compelling explanation for why Romney struggled so badly when applying his business background to government.

Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom was asked late last week, for example, about the former governor's job-creation failures in Massachusetts. He argued Romney inherited a "recession" and an economy that was "losing thousands of jobs every month."

At this point, you might be thinking, "Wait, didn't Obama also inherit a recession and an economy that was hemorrhaging jobs?" And if that is what you're thinking, you'll love the Romney campaign's new press release.

Governor Romney Inherited An Economy That Was Losing Jobs Each Month And Left Office With An Economy That Was Adding Jobs Each Month. After taking office at a time when the state was losing thousands of jobs every month, Governor Romney's focus on fiscal responsibility helped create an environment where job growth returned to Massachusetts. Job growth increased throughout his term....

The same press release takes a cheap shot at a "net" loss in jobs under Obama, which is wildly misleading because it blames the president for job losses that happened before his policies were even tried. But even if we put that aside, if Romney's to be congratulated for inheriting an economy that was losing jobs and then turning things around, by that identical standard, he ought to be patting Obama on the back for a job well done.

Indeed, Obama's campaign team could effectively issue the identical press release, after just swapping out the president's name for Romney's, and changing "state" to "nation."

Given that the fight over job creation and economic growth is central to the entire presidential race, Team Romney's new claim/standard is arguably the most important campaign story of the day. After all, Romney has spent two years arguing that this standard isn't good enough for the president, but apparently it is good enough for himself.

Greg Sargent had a good take on this:

In other words, if we were to apply to Obama the same standard that the Romney campaign wants applied to itself, Obama has created millions of jobs. (Relatedly, Mike Tomasky tried to apply the same standard to both men’s records, and concluded that if you don’t factor in early job loss for either, Obama’s job growth percentage exceeds Romney’s.)

All this is more than just a gotcha. It goes directly to the heart of Romney’s entire case against Obama. The claim that “net” jobs were lost on Obama’s watch is absolutely central to Romney’s whole argument, and the Romney team has repeated it for months and months in every conceivable forum. But the new standard the Romney campaign wants applied to him — i.e., that the focus should be on jobs added after jobs losses were reversed — would seem to completely undercut this entire case.

Jonathan Cohn is thinking along the same lines.