MASON CITY, Iowa -- Mitt Romney on Thursday sought to portray President Barack Obama as out of touch with the struggles of everyday Americans -- a charge he himself has often faced -- by comparing the president to a former French queen who was overthrown during the French Revolution.
"When the president's characterization of our economy was, 'It could be worse,' it reminded me of Marie Antoinette: 'Let them eat cake,'" Romney said, referring to the infamously dismissive remark toward the poor attributed to the queen.
"This is not a time to be talking about, 'It could be worse.' It's a time to recognize that things should be better," Romney said during an interview on his campaign bus with The Huffington Post. "And the president's policies have failed the American people, have led to 25 million people still being out of work. He didn't cause the recession, but he has made it deeper and has made the recovery more tepid and the pain last longer."
Obama said during a Wisconsin town hall meeting in June 2010 that "it's hard to argue sometimes, things would have been a lot worse" without the stimulus plan he pushed through Congress. He also said that while unemployment was high, it was not as high as it could have been if he had done nothing.
The comments have become a regular talking point for Romney on the trail here in Iowa, as he seeks to keep his fire trained on the president. He has the luxury of doing so -- just a few days ahead of next Tuesday's caucuses -- because the rest of the primary field is scrambled and increasingly looks unable to put forward an alternative who is capable of defeating him.
Romney said he could not predict whether unemployment will move down from its current level of 8.6 percent in the next year, ahead of the fall contest between the Republican nominee and the incumbent president.
"If I could predict what the unemployment rate was going to be a year from now, why, you know, I could demand the world," he joked.
But he tried to undercut any argument the White House might make if the economy should improve even slightly this year.
"This has been already the worst recovery since Hoover. [Obama] may say it's getting better and try to take credit for the fact that the economy recovered. But the economy will always recover," Romney said. "We've never gone into permanent recession or depression. The economy will come back after recession. The question is, did he help it or hurt it? Did he prolong the pain or reduce the pain? The truth is he made things harder to recover, he made more people suffer longer."
As for his chances in Iowa, where he is increasingly seen as a favorite to win or come in a close second to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Romney acknowledged that he is "all in" in the Hawkeye State, having announced that he will campaign here every day from now until the caucuses, with a quick trip to New Hampshire on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.
But he downplayed a comment he made earlier in the day, when a reporter asked if it would be a victory if he finished behind Paul and Romney answered flatly, "No."
Democrats have jumped on the comment to try to raise expectations for Romney, saying that now if he does not win, it will be a big blow to his candidacy. But Romney didn't bite when asked to engage with the Democratic National Committee on the matter.
"If Ron Paul wins Iowa, Ron Paul will have won Iowa. I will not have won Iowa. Now, what that means down the road is a different matter," Romney said, expressing confidence in his campaign's preparation for a long primary battle.
"Well, we have 1,150 delegates to get. This is a long process. I'd love to get a good send-off from Iowa, and I hope to get that good send-off," Romney said. "Where you place in the 1-2-3-4 is far less important to me than whether you get 1,150 delegates."
Paul is undoubtedly set to compete with Romney for delegates over many months, having organized and prepared, just as Romney has, in many states beyond the first four. But Romney's comment indicated that in such a contest with Paul, he has no apprehension that he will lose to the Texas iconoclast.
Romney told Real Clear Politics in a separate interview, simply, "Ron Paul's not going to be our nominee."
Asked whether he has any PTSD from his devastating loss here in Iowa in the 2008 Republican primary, Romney said it was "actually the opposite."
"The experience of four years ago makes me recognize that this is very much out of my control and unpredictable, and you say what you believe and you look at the results and then you go on to the next contest," he said.