Mitt Romney lied when he said President Obama made the economy worse. Then he lied again, claiming he never made the claim. He then executed a rare flip-flop-flip, going back to his original position.

And how, pray tell, does the Republican frontrunner explain this mess?

The Romney camp says Romney only denied saying Obama made things worse in the context of what he understood to be a question about the stock market, which (inconveniently for his larger argument) is up around than 50% since Obama took office. But that spin is hogwash, as a full transcript of the exchange shows.

Oh, for crying out loud. After making the bogus claim repeatedly for weeks, Romney was asked, “You continue to say that the economy is worse, but unemployment is lower than it was in 2009, the stock market was tumbling and it’s now above 12,000, and it is growing slowly, we just had a two percent [GDP] gain this last quarter. So how can you continue to say that things are worse when they really aren’t worse?” He replied, “I didn’t say that things are worse. What I said was that the economy hasn’t turned around.”

To claim that Romney was only responding to a question about the stock market is obviously not true. But just as important, if he was only referring to Wall Street, then why does Romney think the economy “hasn’t turned around,” since the Dow has nearly doubled over the last two years?

What we have here, ladies and gentleman, is a true rarity. Behold, Mitt Romney has taken campaign deception to the Inception level — only instead of a dream within a dream within another dream, we have Romney lying, then lying about the lie, then lying about having lied about the other lie.

A three-tiered lie. It’s rather impressive, in its own mendacious way.

That said, Romney appears, at least for now, to be sticking to his first and third line, with no use for the second.

“He didn’t cause the recession as we know,” Mr. Romney said at a town-hall-style meeting [in New Hampshire]. “He didn’t make it better, he made things worse.”

Romney, doing an excellent imitation of a dumb person, went on to blame a cap-and-trade policy that doesn’t exist for an economic slowdown, as well as provisions of a health care law that (a) haven’t been implemented; and (b) actually help employers.

My straightforward two-question exercise remains.

1. When Obama took office, the economy was shrinking. Now it’s growing. In what way is that “worse”?

2. When Obama took office, the economy was hemorrhaging jobs. Now it’s gaining jobs. In what way is that “worse”?

As best as I can tell, there are basically only three explanations. Romney is either intentionally trying to deceive the public and hoping no one will notice; he doesn’t know what “worse” means; or he considers a healthier economy worse than a deep recession.

Which is it, Mitt?

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

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.