'This Week' Extra: The Roundtable's Post-Show Thoughts

VIDEO: Jake Tapper, Austan Goolsbee, Mary Matalin, Eliot Spitzer and Nicolle Wallace.
ABCNEWS.com

Following the "This Week" roundtable today, we asked our roundtable participants to expand on their discussion of the GOP presidential race, the general election and the economy.

Here are their views.

Austan Goolsbee: The Trend Is Key

On the program today, we discussed the economy and the question of how much the economy will hurt or help President Obama come November. It's pretty strange that the country would be debating that issue at this point, given how awful the economy has been for so long (the recession actually began in December of 2007). Here are a few thoughts on the matter:

1) On the question of whether voters mainly look at how the economy is doing, which way it is trending or how it compares to when the incumbent took office, I think the data show pretty clearly that they pay the most attention to how it is trending. Everyone remembers the Reagan landslide of 1984 where unemployment was still quite high but had improved tremendously for the year up to Election Day. But it is only the most extreme case of the general point that people usually track the ways things trend the year before the election. The recent economic improvement has certainly tracked the rise in President Obama's favorability as well.

2) The job market strength of the past five or six months has been pretty broad-based. I don't think that Jake Tapper's statement about the jobs being mainly low-end holds up in the most recent data. It's, in fact, across many different industries and occupations. But this strength has been fueled by the strong upturn in growth from late last year going into this year, and the public should just be aware that most private forecasters anticipate that slowing down some this year. If it slows down, the job market performance will stop looking as good.

3) My own view continues to be that eventually the general election will come down to a comparison of economic plans between the nominees, rather than a referendum on the state of the economy. But that's only if something really bad doesn't happen that would slow things down so much that the normal rules from point 1) above just overwhelm everything else.

Mary Matalin: Taking the Long View

There is hardly a dearth of substantive and unique topics for political junkies to ruminate and rant about in this fascinating election cycle, so it is curious that both the left and right have devoted so much brain power to a recurring presidential campaign issue, for which ample historical evidence exists to provide clarity.

The notion that a long nomination process is bad and a short one good has once again set off flurries of dire predictions in the spring for an outcome nine months hence, none of them grounded in recent reality: John Kerry and John McCain had short primaries; Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama labored well into the spring.

The Republican National Committee voted in 2008 to adjust the primary calendar to afford an opportunity to more states to participate meaningfully in the process. As it happened, most of the primary scheduling turned out to be a function of state politics rather than RNC rules – like late-running, delegate-rich California and Texas, which every still-standing candidate has factored into their delegate hunt. So the criticism that the party stupidly elongated the process is wrong. The net delegate allocation is roughly what it would have been under the former system.

That more states will indeed have a voice and impact by virtue of proportionality or timing could never be a bad thing in any event. Republicans and conservatives and independents are sending messages for their policy preferences through these individual electoral exercises, not just playing a popularity contest. Hearing from more states will provide the ultimate nominee with a greater understanding of the people he will eventually be serving.

The most casual observer can see how each candidate has incorporated more and more of the country's anxieties and desires into their policy prescriptions. After being dismissed and demeaned by the Obama White House when they tried to register their intense opposition to ineffectual job-killing economic policies and command-and-control government-run health care, voters are anxious to be heard.

Neither voter enthusiasm nor funding has been sacrificed, as so many wags have pronounced. GOP enthusiasm exceeds both Democratic enthusiasm and its own 2008 enthusiasm; exponentially more Republicans are paying close attention than Democrats; GOP registration is up in swing states, while Democratic numbers are down, despite the vaunted Obama machine's bragging of organizational superiority. Money is streaming in to all the candidates and political super PACs; even more illustrative of GOP intensity is the consistent financial over-performance of the party institutions, which is consistently greater than the income of their Democratic counterparts.

Obama's predictive numbers (direction of the country, economic satisfaction, job performance) are bouncing around in the margin-of-error zone and are actually worse than Jimmy Carter's were at a comparable time in the cycle. Obama's "New Norm Despair" trumps Carter's malaise!

Bottom line: everyone take a breath, get a grip, chill … and hope the primary extends to your home state. I didn't think I was going to have the chance, so I can't wait to vote in Louisiana later this month.

Eliot Spitzer: The Romney Dilemma

Mitt Romney is probably both inevitable and wounded, slowly slogging forward to a nomination whose value will be reflective of a splintered and incoherent Republican message. There are at least three Republican parties: the theological, led by Rick Santorum, the libertarian, led by Ron Paul, and the traditional corporate, led by Mitt Romney. The Republican problem is that the three do not easily get wound together into one fabric and, in fact, are often totally opposed to one another. Hence Romney's inability to expand his base or bring into his tent those who are fervent believers in the other pieces of the party.

Moreover, while Romney will likely be the standard-bearer in the fall, he will carry an economic message that is also losing its vitality. Job numbers, while not superb, are sufficient to persuade most independent voters that things are getting better – and the trend line is what persuades voters. Compared to what President Obama inherited in January 2009, three straight months of 200,000 plus job growth is pretty good. And as the unemployment number begins to creep down to 8.0 percent, the White House can begin to feel more comfortable making an argument that we really have turned the corner.

On top of that, Romney has said nothing creative about the economic issues facing us. If he had somehow threaded a needle between the Obama interventionist approach and the Bush deregulatory vision, he could claim to be proffering a new plan. Instead, what he suggests really does come across as a retread of old and tired ideas: deregulate, cut taxes for the wealthy, and hope. It seems like old wine in new bottles because it is. Romney, lacking the passion of a unified party and an economic argument with new appeal, will not have a lot to offer the public.

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