As you know, I knew this day would come. The only question was whether it would be early enough in the primaries to make a difference, too late in the primaries, or in the general election.
But the day surely was to come when Mitt Romney’s years at Bain would come under scrutiny. After all, Bain is Romney’s entire claim to business experience, and business experience is Romney’s primary claim to the White House.
Yet the reaction among the conservative punditry to any mention of possible trouble in the Bain narrative was
met with indignation that Newt was attacking capitalism. Charles Krauthammer famously said Newt was talking like “a socialist” for mentioning that Bain bankrupted companies.
The hyperventilated reaction to Newt’s mention of Bain problems was similar to the use of the race card, it was intended to shut down the conversation. And it did for a while in Iowa, and it provided ammunition to those who didn’t like Newt to begin with.
The argument that Newt was being anti-capitalist was rank hypocrisy from the get-go. While being a corporate raider — if that’s what Romney was, and it remains to be proven — may be legal and part of capitalism, it is not necessarily the type of business experience that makes one worthy of the White House or helps electability.
It is not anti-capitalist to say that some types of business experience are negatives in a presidential candidate.
Indeed, the very same people who lambasted Newt for making value judgments as to Romney’s business experience were quick to make value judgments as to Newt’s consulting. Petitioning government for redress, also known as lobbying, is constitutionally protected. Yet that did not stop the conservative punditry from trying to paint Newt’s consulting for Freddie Mac as rendering him a de facto lobbyist and arguing that such lawful conduct rendered Newt unfit for high office.
It was no more anti-constitutional for the conservative punditry to criticize Newt for allegedly lobbying for Freddie Mac than it was anti-capitalist for Newt to criticize Romney for bad business practices.
So yes, the day has arrived when Romney’s Bain days come under scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal examines Bain’s successes and failures, Romney at Bain: Big Gains, Some Busts:
Amid anecdotal evidence on both sides, the full record has largely escaped a close look, because so many transactions are involved. The Wall Street Journal, aiming for a comprehensive assessment, examined 77 businesses Bain invested in while Mr. Romney led the firm from its 1984 start until early 1999, to see how they fared during Bain’s involvement and shortly afterward.
Among the findings: 22% either filed for bankruptcy reorganization or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested, sometimes with substantial job losses. An additional 8% ran into so much trouble that all of the money Bain invested was lost.
Another finding was that Bain produced stellar returns for its investors—yet the bulk of these came from just a small number of its investments. Ten deals produced more than 70% of the dollar gains.
Some of those companies, too, later ran into trouble. Of the 10 businesses on which Bain investors scored their biggest gains, four later landed in bankruptcy court.
I don’t see this necessarily as a game changer. It doesn’t surprise me that most profits would come from a relatively small number of investments, and bankruptcy is a perfectly legitimate tool to turn around a company. (added) James Pethokoukis, for one, defends Romney against the thrust of The Wall Street Journal article.
But it does focus on whether this is the type of business experience which makes Romney more or less electable.
A SuperPAC supporting Newt also is rolling out several million dollars in negative ads in South Carolina based on Bain. Contrary to what some say, the SuperPAC did not create the mini-documentary, it was created by a former Romney confidant and campaign advisor, the SuperPAC merely bought the rights to it. So whatever the mini-documentary has to say, it was going to come out sooner or later.
Republicans should be thanking Newt for bringing up Bain now. Romney’s business narrative either will be vindicated, in which case airing the grievances now will help Romney in the general election, or it will mortally wound Romney’s campaign. But if Romney cannot withstand scrutiny of his Bain years with a Republican electorate in the primaries, then there is no way he would hold up in the general election. Better to find out now.
I’m just glad that the day has arrived. Just as the day will arrive when Romney is forced by public opinion to release his tax returns.
Update: I was reminded that when Perry was rising Romney used Mediscare tactics at a debate. Funny, few of the conservative pundits lashing out at Newt now criticized Romney then (John McCormack of The Weekly Standard was an exception.)