The President correctly clowned Ed Henry for that absurd question yesterday about whether he secretly wanted gas prices to rise to bring about a renewable energy revolution. “Ed, just from a political perspective, do you think the President of the United States, going into reelection, wants gas prices to go up even higher,” Obama asked. “Is there anybody here who thinks that makes a lot of sense?”

This won’t stop conservatives from blaming the President for higher gas prices. Or will it? Because the likely nominee of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney, backed away from that stance today.

Mitt Romney on Wednesday said that President Obama shouldn’t be held directly responsible for rising gas prices.

“I think people recognize that the president can’t precisely set the price at the pump,” Romney told CNBC on Wednesday [...]

“[President Obama] can decide how much money for oil and gas is going to other nations, and to get that money here and to create jobs here and to stabilize prices here,” Romney said. “He ought to be taking advantage of all of our offshore, and ANWR, and North Dakota and Oklahoma and Texas gas resources instead of trying to hold them off. Natural gas is a huge win for us and through the EPA he’s been trying to hold that off.”

He gamely tried to reverse course and keep the lies moving, but the first statement inadvertently spoke the truth. For the most part, gas prices are set through market factors. While not solely limited to global supply and demand, that’s the major component. And the President has a tiny role in that. Indeed, it fits with current conservative thinking to say that the market and not a President should set gas prices. It’s Newt “$2.50″ Gingrich that is out of step on this front.

These allegations by Romney, incidentally, are pretty absurd. Domestic oil production is in a boom phase, particularly in the states he mentions. So is natural gas, much to the regret of environmentalists. Democrats in the Senate are trying to add a natural gas subsidy into the transportation bill. In one area where a President can depress demand and stretch current resources, Obama signed a landmark agreement on fuel economy that will double the efficiency of autos over the next decade.

In recent years we’ve seen over-speculation send the price of oil sky-high. There the Administration could play a larger role by setting more stringent position limits to ensure that no speculator can capture a large segment of the oil futures market, but conservatives almost never mention this because it would mean lower profits for Wall Street. Democrats are increasingly starting to make this point.

I find it hard to believe that we’re going to have an honest conversation about gas prices in an election year. But Romney started out with one today. Surely he’ll clean that up for the future, but I’d hope not.