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Mitt, Newt and the Bain of Republicans | The Nation

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Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

Mitt, Newt and the Bain of Republicans

Don’t cheat by reading the words, but guess which video below is by MoveOn and which is by a pro-Gingrich PAC?

 

Today, a few million dollars worth of ads like the first one began flooding South Carolina, and the twenty-eight-minute film When Mitt Romney Came to Town was released.

Whether or not Newt Gingrich, who came in a disappointing fourth place in the New Hampshire primary, will tamp down his almost Occupy-like attacks on Romney (for “looting companies” and leaving behind “broken families”) may be of less consequence now that a pro-Gingrich Super PAC is doing it for him. “A story of greed,” the narrator of one of the film’s trailers intones. “Playing the system for a quick buck. A group of corporate raiders, led by Mitt Romney. More ruthless than Wall Street. For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town.”

Meanwhile, the last-place finisher and even more desperate Rick Perry, is staking his hopes on the town of Gaffney, South Carolina, where he says Bain Capital has killed 150 jobs. “There’s a real difference between venture capitalism and vulture capitalism,” says the Texas governor, actually coining a clever phrase. “I don’t believe that capitalism is making a buck under any circumstances.”

Up until New Hampshire, it wasn’t easy for these 1 percenters to take it to the .1 percent that Mitt so well personifies. Attacking Romney is to attack winner-take-all capitalism itself, the very core of GOP ideology. And indeed, Gingrich and Perry have faced scathing criticism from fellow Republicans. The Club for Growth calls Newt’s attack “disgusting.” Limbaugh says Newt “sounds like Elizabeth Warren.” Romney surrogate John Sununu labels the attacks “socialist.”

For his part, Romney insists that the slights against him are based on “envy” and (what else?) “class warfare.” Such matters, he says, are better discussed “in quiet rooms.”    

Romney is nauseating enough to (almost) make you want to fall into the big, earthy arms of Grandpa Newt.

Why did Gingrich go there, and why now? Never underestimate the force of a Newt snit. If Gingrich could shut down the entire US government after then-President Clinton snubbed him on Air Force One, you can imagine the blowback after a Romney PAC of killer ads in Iowa crushed his presidential ambitions. (Those are the ads Romney said he didn’t see before he said he saw them.)

A month ago, the first time Newt Bained-out, saying Romney should “give back all the money he earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain,” he quickly retreated under fire. But this time, someone besides Calista had his back—his old friend, billionaire wing-nut and casino mogul Sheldon Adelstein, who plopped down $5 million to the Gingrich-supporting PAC Winning Our Future.

Had Newt been in Mitt’s loafers, who knows, he who insists that Freddy Mac paid him $300,000 as a “historian” might well have acted as Romney did at Bain and then accuse his critics of envy.

But whatever his motivation, Gingrich has opened up a crack in the Republican Party between what he poses as good capitalism—“We went in, we invested, and lost money”—versus the no-risk, heads-I-win, tails-you-lose kind he says Romney practices. As Newt told Chuck Todd this morning, “My point is there’s a big difference between financial manipulation and capitalism.” Newt’s all for the free market, he said earlier this week, but “I’m not nearly enamored of a Wall Street model where you can go in and flip companies, have leveraged buyouts, basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers.”

But it must feel good for him to let loose and finally sound an authentic populist note (as opposed to the Tea Party kind that favors the financial elite). As Gingrich told Todd, “I’m middle class, my dad was an Army officer, I grew up in a middle-class background, I have middle-class values. I find powerful, rich people rigging games very distasteful.”

All this season Gingrich, Perry, and the other un-Mitts have had to stand on stage and bear Romney’s insufferable sense of noblesse oblige—his $10,000 bets, his pathetic denial that he’s a politician like the rest of them (“Run again? That’d be about me,” he said, explaining why he didn’t go for a second term as Massachusetts governor—which Newt memorably dubbed “pious baloney”), his manor-born inability to relate to everyday human struggle (he proudly shared his multimillionaire father’s advice: “Mitt, never get involved in politics if you have to win an election to pay a mortgage”).

Worse, Mitt doesn’t just flaunt his status, he does it with a passive-aggressive, mortgage-obsessed mean streak. Referring to his 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy, Mitt said at Sunday’s debate, “I was happy that he had to take a mortgage out on his house to ultimately defeat me.” He boasts of his pettiness—and with a blissful unconcern that many of the citizens he hopes to lead might have contemplated such a desperate move at some point in their lives.

Mitt’s evident pleasure in needling others over money is what makes it seem that his line “I like being able to fire people” isn’t as out of context as some Beltway insiders have made it out to be.  

Former RNC chair Michael Steele and others have compared it to the notorious Romney ad that shows Obama saying “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose”—when, in fact, Obama was quoting McCain. Attributing someone else’s quote to your enemy is outright lying; talking about liking to fire people is more like showing your Freudian slip.

Here’s Romney’s full statement::

I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep people healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I’m going to go get somebody else to provide that service to me.

Sure, Romney was talking about firing an insurance company, not his employees. But who talks about “firing” their insurance company anyway? You might want to get rid of them or tell them to go to hell, but only the very wealthy are in a position to have a second insurance company cover them should they “fire” the first. And most people with a pre-existing condition couldn’t purchase individual insurance at all—at least they couldn’t before  “Obamacare” came along, the care that Romney vowed in his victory speech that he’d repeal.

Jon Huntsman, the only other Republican candidate astute enough to choose a rich daddy, tried to get a little mileage from Romney’s gaffe, quipping, “Governor Romney enjoys firing people, I enjoy creating jobs.” But he has his limits. Asked on Morning Joe about Romney’s record at Bain, Huntsman said, “Well, I’m not gonna quibble with Bain Capital because you can quibble with my record in manufacturing in business.” His business, by the way, is his father’s multibillion-dollar chemical conglomerate, where, it seems, quite a few quibbles might be found.

Rick Santorum has been careful about keeping his trap shut about Bain too, and Ron Paul, unflappable in the armor of his ideology, would have none of Gingrich’s and Perry’s attacks, saying they just “don’t understand” the free market.

Republican voters, and the nation, may be stuck with Romney, at least until November. But thanks to Newt’s hurt ego (and an Occupy Wall Street–charged atmosphere), something may be changing a bit inside the GOP. All of last year they were haggling over the limits of government—should it be cut off at the knees or at the throat?

Now, however, the rift lurking inside the Republican coalition over the limits of capitalism is suddenly out in the open.

CORRECTION: I was afraid I was giving Rick Perry too much cleverness credit: he did not, as I wrote, coin the phrase "vulture capitalism." There's a 1978 quote of it in the OED, notes lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower, and it's in the title of Greg Palast's latest book, The Vultures' Picnic, published last November. 

 

 

 

 

 

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