The American Debate: Republicans hitting Romney where Obama would

Mitt Romney touts his experience in the private sector.
Mitt Romney touts his experience in the private sector. (CHARLES DHARAPAK / Associated Press)
Posted: January 12, 2012

From: The Obama reelection team

To: Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry

Message: Thank you, thank you, thank you!

It's not often that President Obama gets to applaud Republicans for carrying his water. The president has long intended to paint Mitt Romney as a soulless predator who racked up huge profits during the '90s while frequently laying people off. He has long planned to cite Romney's Bain Capital tenure as proof that the guy is a card-carrying member of the 1 percent, a multimillionaire plutocrat ill-suited to feel people's pain in a recession.

And just when Obama was gearing up to make the case, he gets aid from the other side. Gingrich and Perry, of all people, suddenly sound like a cross between Ralph Nader and Michael Moore.

Gingrich allies, backed by a casino mogul's big bucks, are circulating a film, When Mitt Romney Came to Town, which tags the Republican front-runner as a "predatory corporate raider" who was "more ruthless than Wall Street." Gingrich says Romney and his Bain pals are "a handful of rich people [who] manipulate the lives of thousands of people, then walk off with the money." And Rick Perry simply assails them as "vultures."

Given that Gingrich and Perry are swinging wildly in their efforts to connect with South Carolina primary voters, and that those voters aren't likely to reward their desperation, it's doubtful that Romney's inexorable march will be much slowed. I suspect that most Republicans buy Romney's claim that bashing Bain is akin to attacking free enterprise. Besides, South Carolina Republicans, who cast ballots on Jan. 21, have traditionally backed front-runners and propelled them toward the nomination.

But the autumn campaign is something else entirely. Romney touts his private-sector experience as proof of his ability to create jobs; that's the core of his candidacy, arguably his greatest strength. Obama wants to take aim at Romney's core by highlighting Bain and parading workers who were laid off after Bain acquired their companies. If Obama can convince swing voters that Romney was far more focused on making money than creating jobs, he'll have a better shot at keeping his own job.

And right now, Gingrich and Perry are busy plowing the ground for Obama. As Romney himself said Wednesday, his rivals "are going to be witnesses for the prosecution." They're signaling that the Bain criticism is not just a partisan jab from the left, but, rather, that Romney's tenure is worthy of serious scrutiny, particularly at a time when Wall Street greed has sickened so many Americans.

Gingrich and Perry are pushing this issue in the interests of partisan gain, but that doesn't invalidate the issue. Indeed, Romney's boast of being a private-sector job creator has already been undercut by one of his former Bain managing partners. Last month, Marc Woplow told a reporter: "I never thought of what I do for a living as job creation. The primary goal of private equity is to create wealth for your investors."

Similarly, the new film financed by Gingrich allies shows Romney laughingly exclaiming, "Make a profit. That's what it's all about, right?" And so he has. Recent news stories have reported that Romney, who left Bain in 1999, has reaped a share of its profits ever since, thanks to a sweet retirement deal, and that Bain typically obtains profits whether its acquired companies live or die.

In fact, long before his fellow Republicans began Bain-bashing, Romney was trying to spin Bain as a positive. In August, Romney said Bain on his watch had helped create "10,000" jobs. That number keeps being revised. Last month, a pro-Romney TV ad said that Bain "helped create thousands of jobs." Last Sunday, Romney upped the ante and said that Bain-run companies "have now added over 100,000 jobs."

But Team Romney and its allies refuse to back their claims with actual statistics. Reportedly, Bain doesn't even keep employment figures for its investments (which tells you something about its priorities). When the nonpartisan website factcheck.org sought last month to substantiate the claims, Romney's camp didn't even respond. The pro-Romney group that ran the TV ad responded: "We aren't supplying that information."

To quote a Republican mantra aimed at Obama, "Where are the jobs?" Down the road, Obama's team might even contend that Bain under Romney created a lot of its jobs overseas . . . oh wait: Gingrich's allies are suggesting that already. A pro-Gingrich operative said publicly Monday: "Show me where those jobs are. I would contend they are Mexican jobs and Southeast Asian jobs."

At this rate, the Obama campaign may have to show its gratitude by giving Newt a brand-new account at Tiffany. One month ago, Newt promised to be a pussycat, insisting that "it's critical the Republican nominee emerge from this primary campaign unbloodied." But this week he's baying for blood: "All of us should be tested in January, February, March."

Which is fine with Obama. He surely welcomes Republican help in making Romney's past the Bain of his existence.


Contact Dick Polman at dpolman@phillynews.com or @dickpolman1 on Twitter.

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