But it’s interesting to ask why the Romney camp is spnning this scenario. I don’t know how heavily Romney and his advisers are banking on things unfolding this way, but the fact that they are telling folks this suggests they think they need a theory of the race that explains why they aren’t yet winning.
That's only partially why they are spinning this scenario. One reason is that I think the Romney campaign actually has a bit of a grasp on the history of presidential elections. And even though the 1980 election doesn't align with this one perfectly, there are some similarities. They understand that the election will be the big driver of this election's results, just like it was in 1980.
But the big reason the Romney campaign is pointing to the 1980 election and not any other election that the economy was very important in deciding (which is basically all of them) is that to Republicans, it's always 1979. I adopted that mantra, which Jonathan Bernstein created in order to explain conservative fears of inflation, in order to explain not just inflation fears, but huge areas of conservative thinking. Here's the post where I started it. Here's the mantra in action. And again.
Ok, it doesn't work perfectly in this case. But the basic idea holds, which is that Republicans pick this time to fixate on because it was when things were really bad for liberals and their conservative savior was about to swoop in and save the day, bringing back America to it's rightful spot atop of the world. They have so completely internalized the events of that time and the success of Reagan subsequent to those events that they are always searching for a recreation of that glorious time.
As the Reagan biographer that Sargent quotes says, Romney is no Reagan. I think that's also the point that conservatives won't admit. They cling to the it's alwasy 1979 thinking because deep down they know they don't have another Reagan. It's kind of like when liberals get frustrated with Obama and invoke LBJ or FDR. They long for a time when their policies were passed and glory ensued. But as liberals are finding out now, things have changed so much that those moments are much harder to come by. The 2012 election could be one of those moments for conservatives for reasons Matt Yglesias explained. So why not engage in some wishful thinking which posits that this election is just 1980 all over again?