Some conservatives are breathing a sigh of relief that the "Bain stuff"—former Gov. Mitt Romney's successful career in the private equity and venture capital industry—is coming out now, rather than in the general election, when President Obama could have sprung it on unsuspecting electorate.
My blogeague Boris Epshteyn, for instance, argues that Romney's rivals "may just be doing Mitt Romney a service by making Bain Capital such a big story in January that it is old news when it really counts in November."
Epshteyn likens Bain to President Obama's dodgy Chicago "associations (remember Reverend Jeremiah Wright?)," and says those issues were "useless to Sen. John McCain" since they were aired during a contentious primary.
The truth is, we'll never know what bringing up Jeremiah Wright might have done for (or to) the McCain campaign because he pointedly refused to do so. Out of a combination of concern that a backlash would outweigh the benefits, as well as his own vaunted sense of decorum, McCain wouldn't touch Wright with a large pole. Some of his aides were reportedly dismayed at the kid-glove treatment.
I don't believe the Bain Stuff is nearly as explosive as the Wright Stuff, but it has the potential nonetheless of doing real damage to Romney at the all-important margins: among independents and working-class Republicans in economically depressed states. Yes, Romney's numbers jumped nationally in the last week or so. Perhaps, as Ross Douthat argues, movement conservatives rallied around Romney as he staved off an attack from his left flank.
But after successive wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney was bound to begin shoring up conservative support, as the reality of his inevitability sank in.
Now there's fresh evidence that Romney's support is still as soft as it ever was. Since Monday night's GOP debate in South Carolina, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is surging, according to the latest Rasmussen polling. Is it Bain or another bravura debate performance driving the trend? Probably the latter. But what matters is that conservatives are still looking for any reason not to rally around Romney.
And if the symbolic thrust of Romney's campaign—that he's a private-sector wizard and turnaround artist—fails to excite GOP primary voters now, what's that going to mean for him in November?
For a solid week, Romney pitched himself as the very embodiment of free enterprise. The doyens of market fundamentalism, from Rush Limbaugh to the Club for Growth, cursed Gingrich for his apostasy. And yet, if Rasmussen's data is right, Republicans are still signaling that they're unmoved.
And if they're unmoved, imagine how the rest of the electorate will react to Obama's tweaking of Romney's master-of-the-universe status. Indeed, recent Pew data from the week of Jan. 11-16 show Romney's favorability ratings having taken a dip among all voters.
In a column that I think fairly expresses the sentiment of the Republican-leaning slice of the electorate that voted for Ross Perot, that isn't wowed by high finance, that recoils at the patrician overlords of American politics, Pat Buchanan writes:
Let-the-devil-take-the-hindmost capitalism, economic Darwinism, is neither conservatism nor Americanism.
Should Mitt Romney be nominated, he will need to make a national address defending his career at Bain Capital with the same conviction and passion with which he defended his faith in the campaign of 2008.
Romney has not been done a favor; that's wishful thinking.
The balance of evidence is that Romney, already weak, may be fatally compromised.
- Read Rick Newman on how Mitt Romney can use his wealth as a political asset.
- See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.
- See pictures of the 2012 GOP candidates