Damage Control: Do Bain Attacks Matter to Mitt Romney?

GOP front-runnner faces criticisms on business past.


Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is riding high from his big GOP primary victory in New Hampshre, but there is trouble brewing ahead. Experts say the emerging storyline regarding his work at Bain Capital, a turnaround company that specialized in taking over struggling businesses, cutting costs, and selling them for a profit, is one that may harm him in a general election, but not slow his march to the Republican nomination.

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"It seems sort of strange, because this is such a conservative place, to attack him for being a capitalist and an entrepreneur and all of that," says David Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University and former GOP consultant in South Carolina.

"Even those stories that he's fired people and all of that. Maybe Newt Gingrich knows something I don't, that those things work. But it seems rather strange to attack somebody on that," he says.

South Carolina's primary is next on the primary docket, scheduled for Jan. 21.

Gingrich, the former House speaker, has emerged as one of the biggest proponents of the attacks against Romney. Gingrich's super PAC, a group separate from his campaign but allowed to raise unlimited money in support of it, has purchased a short film depicting Romney in an unflattering light regarding Bain.

Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, warns that Gingrich and other Republicans accusing Romney of being a job-cutter, hoping it will negatively resonate with many unemployed Americans, might not like the result.

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"It just feels like for a Republican primary, it's not the right kind of attack that's going to upset Republican voters. If anything, it could backfire on the people making the attack," he says.

Indeed, already the conservative National Review editorialized against the GOP attacks on Romney regarding Bain.

"To abominate Mitt Romney for having been a success at the business of investing in struggling American companies, connecting entrepreneurs with capital and producers with markets, is foolish and destructive," wrote the editors. "Republicans ought to know better, and the fact that Gingrich et al. apparently do not is the most disturbing commentary on the state of the primary field so far."

Romney has not aided himself, thanks to a pair of comments – one where he made the claim "companies are people" and another, taken out of context but nonetheless damaging, when he said he "liked" being able to fire people. He was actually discussing the merits of allowing employees to have more choice in their health insurance provider, which is typically dictated by employers.

Even conservative Texas Gov. Rick Perry got in on the fight Tuesday all the way from South Carolina where he is campaigning.

"They're basically just vultures," he said, according to MSNBC's First Read blog. "[They wait] for companies to get sick, they swoop in, they eat the carcass."

Most agree that with Romney coming off a pair of victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, the attacks will not stop him from being the last Republican standing. Democrats, however, are poised to capitalize on the narrative of Romney as corporate crusader. In fact, they are not waiting until the general election to begin lobbing attacks.

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Dennis Johnson, acting executive director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, says it remains to be seen if casting Romney as a bad guy, a la Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street," will keep him from the White House.

"It's not attacking him as a successful businessman; it's attacking him as a predator, a financial predator," he says. "And that's a different kind of angle that his opponents are going after. It's not whether he was successful in his business or not, it's the kind of consequences of that business."

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