Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has focused most his message on attacking President Obama’s economic record. To that end, the former governor has repeated a specific phrase over and over again: “He made it worse.”

“He” in this sentence is the president, and “it” references the economy. Romney has used the exact same line, word for word, in debate appearances, press releases, exchanges with voters, and even his campaign kick-off speech, when Romney said of the president, “When he took office, the economy was in recession. He made it worse.”

This is, in other words, one of the driving messages of Romney’s presidential campaign. Unfortunately for the GOP frontrunner, it’s also a lie.

With that in mind, Romney held a press conference yesterday in Pennsylvania, and NBC’s Sue Kroll, to her enormous credit, asked the candidate the question no other reporter has been willing to pose.

[Kroll] asked the former Massachusetts governor why he believes that Obama’s policies have made the economy worse — when the economy is now growing (and not shrinking like it was in 2009), when the Dow is climbing (and no longer in a free-fall like it was in ’09), and when the unemployment rate is down a full percentage point from where it was in Oct. ’09.

Romney offered a response that was nothing short of extraordinary.

“I didn’t say that things are worse…. What I said was that economy hasn’t turned around.”

When a candidate lies, it’s a problem. When a candidate lies about lying, it’s a bigger problem.

Even for Romney, who’s flip-flopped more often and on more issues than any American politician in a generation, this is ridiculous. He’s argued repeatedly that Obama made the economy worse, and when asked to defend the bogus claim, says he never made the argument in the first place.

Romney does realize that Google exists, right? That it’s pretty easy to find all kinds of examples of him saying exactly what he claims to have never said?

What’s more, as part of his defense, Romney’s new line — the economy “hasn’t turned around” — is itself wrong. The economy was shrinking, now it’s growing. The economy was hemorrhaging jobs, now it’s gaining jobs. The stock market was collapsing, now it’s soaring. When compared to where things were when the president took office, the economy has obviously turned around, even if it’s far short of where it needs to be.

I’m not sure why this isn’t a bigger deal this morning. It was amusing when Michele Bachmann falsely characterized John Quincy Adams as a Founding Father, but Romney getting caught telling a blatant falsehood about one of the central themes of his presidential campaign is infinitely more important.

Remember when John Kerry, talking about Iraq funding, said he was for it before he was against it? Romney’s incoherence yesterday is every bit as interesting.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.