Andrew Romano of Newsweek/The Daily Beast speculates that if he’s elected, Mitt Romney will inherit a recovery and get the credit for it:
If Romney simply sits at the Resolute Desk, twiddling his thumbs, he will soon be able to tout economic numbers that are, in all likelihood, more robust than any Obama has enjoyed for the entirety of his administration. And if Romney passes some economic legislation, the public will probably credit his policies for whatever improvements they see—even the ones that would’ve happened anyway.
Ezra Klein had similar thoughts back in January:
If Romney wins the presidency and the economy begins to rebound, Republicans will argue, and America’s experience will seem to show, that they were right all along: The stimulus was useless and the regulatory uncertainty the Obama administration created with its health-care plan and its talk of cap-and-trade and all the rest kept businesses from investing.
There are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, partisans will think how partisans will think. Republicans insist President Clinton inherited a recovery that began under the first President Bush and passed on a recession to the second President Bush. Democrats say the Reagan boom owed to the inflation-killing monetary policy of the Jimmy Carter-appointed Paul Volcker, plus an auspicious drop in oil prices, plus Keynesian deficit-spending.
On the other hand, there’s a definite ceiling to how highly history regards one-term presidencies like Carter’s and Bush’s. In a broad sense, the failure to get reelected is just that — a failure. (Although, it must be noted that Bush 41 keeps looking better in hindsight, and that two-term Bush 43 most likely will not.) And this general perception hangs like a dark cloud over everything else these presidents may have accomplished. So Romano is probably right that an Obama defeat “would basically guarantee him a spot in the history book as a middling commander in chief.”
The Obama legacy worrywarts should bear this in mind, however: There’s no legitimate reason anymore to trust the pundits who say a self-sustaining recovery is just around the corner. For all we know, a President Romney may inherit a global depression. Under such circumstances, tending to presidential reputations will seem like a luxury.