It’s not often that I find myself to the right of Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry. But here we are: Gingrich, Perry and their allies are attacking Mitt Romney for the fact that Bain Capital laid off workers and closed businesses when he was in charge of it.
Gingrich invented the attack in December in response to Romney’s suggestion that Gingrich return the millions of dollars Freddie Mac paid him. “I would just say that if Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain, that I would be glad to then listen to him,” Gingrich said. In recent weeks he has sharpened the attack, which his affiliated Super PAC Winning Our Future lays out in detail in a twenty-eight-minute propaganda film, “When Mitt Romney Came to Town.” The movie shows cigar-smoking capitalists counting money while laid-off workers from companies Bain owned, such as the Ampad paper company and UniMac washing machines, complain of the hardships they’ve endured. The “documentary” makes xenophobic accusations that Romney took “foreign seed money from Latin America” and twice shows him speaking French. The Washington Post’s Fact-Checker column gave the movie four Pinocchios for the various misleading ways it has played fast and loose with the factual details. Now Gingrich is calling on Winning Our Future to correct the film or pull it off the airwaves. But Gingrich hasn’t retracted his argument that Romney is somehow different from, and worse than, most entreprenuers, whom Republicans such as Gingrich typically lionize.
The other Republican candidates have been repeating Gingrich’s argument. Jon Huntsman, whose campaign’s obsessive hatred of Romney seems to border on pathological, made the absurd claim that “Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs.” Texas Governor Rick Perry, who like Huntsman and Gingrich is normally a champion of capitalism and free enterprise, attacks Romney with the meaningless distinction between “venture capitalism and vulture capitalism.”
To say that there is something inherently wrong with Bain laying people off or closing factories to increase its profits is not a persuasive political argument in and of itself. But what anyone—Democrat or Republican—should note is that it contradicts the central rationale of Romney’s campaign. Romney has made his business background the chief selling point for his candidacy. He constantly blames President for the unemployment rate and argues that Obama’s lack of private-sector experience is the underlying culprit. Romney says that his business experience will imbue him with magical powers to lower the unemployment rate despite his poor record on employment as Governor of Massachusetts. “This president doesn’t understand how the economy works, it’s time to get a president who does,” says Romney in his stump speech.