"Barack Obama has failed America."
As that stark line from Mitt Romney's Thursday speech in which he officially announced that he is seeking the 2012 Republican presidential nomination for a chance to unseat President Obama, the putatutive GOP frontrunner is doing what the challenger to an incumbent president does. You call the president a flop and try to make the race a referendum on his presidency.
Romney, appearing at a rally at Bittersweet Farm in New Hampshire, had at least three narratives of the Obama presidency aimed at different groups of voters.
One was for the Tea Party Republicans who didn't vote for the president to begin with.
That was the narrative of a president who appears hellbent on turning the U.S. into a European socialist nanny state more than anything else.
ROMNEY: Here at home, the president seems to take his inspiration not from the small towns and villages if New Hampshire but from the capitals of Europe. With the economy in crisis his answer was to borrow more money and to throw it at Washington bureaucrats and politicians, just like Europe.
That played to suspicions among many of those conservative voters that the president is The Other, meaning not quite American.
The second narrative was for independents or conservative Democrats who may have voted for Obama in 2008. Romney suggested that in their hopefulness and open-mindedness, those voters were willing to take a chance on Obama. He was new (and, while Romney didn't say it, he was black) Unfortunately, Romney said, Obama hadn't lived up to expectations.
"A few years ago, Americans did something that's really quite American in its nature, it's the sort of thing we like to do: We gave someone new a chance to lead the country, someone we hadn't known for very long, someone who didn't have a long record but someone who promised to lead us to a better place.
"At the time, we didn't know what sort of a president he'd make. There was a moment of crisis for our economy. And when Barack Obama came to office, we wished him well and hoped for the best.
Now, in the third year of his four-year term, we have more than slogans and promises to go by. Barack Obama has failed America."
The third narrative grew out of the second, that Obama took a bad situation, the Great Recession, and made it worse.
When he took office, the economy was in recession, and he made it worse and he made it last longer. Three years later, over 16 million Americans are out of work. Just quit looking for jobs. Millions more are unemployed. Three years later unemployment is still about 8 percent and that is the figure he said his stimulus would keep from happening....
To a certain extent, the critique of Obama and the economy is the easiest part of Romney's sales pitch, at least to Republican primary voters.
The more challenging task for him with many of those voters is to give them enough reasons to vote for him over his GOP challengers.
He didn't mention any of those other Republicans, by the way. That's part of his obvious frontrunner's strategy, used by others in the past, to make himself seem the inevitable nominee.
For anyone looking for something new from Romney, there wasn't much. He did tweak his by now well-known resume — the problem-solving business executive and former governor — to deal with one of his big negatives for GOP voters, the health-care law he signed as Massachusetts' chief executive which contained an individual mandate.
For instance, Romney made it sound as though his main motive in signing the law was to stop $1 billion in health-care spending from going to people who didn't need the money and were gaming the system.
While he suggested that Massachusetts Democrats were against such belt-tightening, who else would be against that? He said:
I took on this problem and took on a bad situation and made it better. Not perfect. But it was a state solution to our state's problem.
(We expect the fact-checking web sites will be getting to some of these claims. PolitiFact already took apart Romney's statement that under Obama, the U.S. is "only inches away from ceasing to be a free-market economy." It was another his way for Romney to accuse Obama of socialism without actually using the word.)
Meanwhile, he boasted about other parts of his gubernatorial record, saying that during his time the state's budget was balanced without raising taxes and that taxes were cut 19 times.
That should play well in the early primary state of New Hampshire, a relatively anti-tax state compared to Massachusetts.
It could also help Romney fend off the competition for the nomination from Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty, former governors of Utah and Minnesota, respectively, who can both make strong anti-tax or tax reform arguments for their candidacies as well.
Now for the two things that might have struck some as odd about Romney's announcement, one he had control over and one he didn't.
First, just a day after tornadoes killed four and caused massive damage in the state where he was governor, Romney didn't mention the disaster at all.
That seemed strange since not only was he governor of the afflicted state but Massachusetts borders New Hampshire. Indeed, Romney joked about people from Massachusetts sneaking across the border to live in the lower taxed Granite State.
Then, as he left the stage, the public address system began blaring "Rock Me, Baby," a blues tune that's euphemistically about sex. It includes the line: "I want you to rock me like my back ain't got no bone."
It's unclear if that was meant intentionally to spice up Romney's kick-off. Maybe a lot of people have been underestimating him, after all.