Last night, as I was waiting for the good people of New Hampshire to decide if they preferred Buddy Roemer over Rick Perry *, it occurred to me that I’ve both criticized and defended every single one of the candidates. That’s probably par for the course as a pundit, although a bit dismaying for a voter whose primary (Florida) is right around the corner.
Only Mitt Romney, the leading Republican nominee, can manage the unique trick of compelling me to criticize and defend him at the same time.
I find the frantic assaults by fading rivals on his private-sector job experience to be extremely foolish, not least because they swing the entire GOP (and by extension, the entire electorate) to the Left… but let us not forget that Romney is no slouch at swinging to the Left. Defending his record at Bain Capital is much easier than defending his defense of it.
From a Politico report today:
Mitt Romney, under attack by his opponents over his record of layoffs and restructuring at Bain Capital, said Wednesday that President Barack Obama was also forced to lay off people in the auto industry.
“In the general election, I’ll be pointing out that the president took the reins of General Motors and Chrysler, closed factories, closed dealerships, laid off thousands and thousands of workers. He did it to try to save the business,” Romney said on CBS’s “This Morning.”
“We also had the occasion to do things that are tough to try to save a business,” Romney said. “We started a number of businesses, invested in many others and, overall, created tens of thousands of jobs.”
Obama’s reelection team actually sees the auto bailout as a major political success and plans to campaign hard against Romney’s opposition to the bailout, should he be the nominee.
That last bit is not surprising, by the way, and it’s not just political spin. Obama’s squad of economic geniuses, which famously included MF Global vampire Jon Corzine, really do see a compulsory “investment” extracted from taxpayers at gunpoint, which went on to lose almost forty billion dollars, as a smashing “success.”
Now, let’s be clear about what Romney said, or more to the point, did not say. He did not draw an overall equivalency between private investment, of the sort he practiced at Bain Capital, with government bailouts. The entire point of the Obama team’s response to Romney’s comments is that he opposes the auto bailout. They’re going to “campaign hard” against him for that.
Romney was making a specific point about the occasional necessity of taking tough measures, including aggressive trimming of payroll, to save a struggling business. However logical that point might be, this is not really the treacherous ground he should be treading upon. The private ownership of capital deserves a more vigorous defense than comparing it with government bailouts in any way.
Also, making the case that he and Obama have both been compelled to regretfully fire some people, in the course of saving a troubled business venture, implies that the similarity of their situations is at least as important as the differences. He didn’t explicitly equate capital investment with government bailouts, but he’s doing government bailouts an entirely undeserved favor by highlighting their functional similarity to capital investments. As Romney said, he and Obama both “had the occasion to do things that are tough to try to save a business…” but the differences between those “occasions” are far more important than any momentary political advantage to be gained by playing up their similarities.
Romney should also have the political savvy to understand that using this kind of language immediately opens him up to headlines screaming “ROMNEY: I’M JUST LIKE OBAMA!” Especially since there is one rather significant policy example in which he is just like Obama, and he’s trying very hard to convince nervous conservatives that he’ll do the Right thing in spite of it.
* Perry ended up winning by 821 votes. Roemer did, however, handily defeat Fred Karger.