Bill Clinton is trying to help President Obama, by raising money for his reelection and giving interviews about him — even if those interviews sometimes contradict Obama's message.
The Obama campaign wants to characterize Mitt Romney as a creature of private-equity corporatism who doesn't understand the plights of the working man and whose understanding of the economy has more to do with how to exploit it than how to nurture it.
Clinton must know the importance of this talking point. But Clinton also knows a lot of people who make their living the way Romney did. And those people give generously to Clinton's foundation, which uses donations to do honorable work around the world.
Clinton, in fact, is buried in the world of finance, and this week is hosting the Clinton Global Initiative's annual conference in Chicago, Obama's hometown. Clinton has a lot of people to thank for backing his foundation — specifically, a bunch of rich people from private equity and hedge funds. The very people who think like Romney and start companies like Bain Capital.
Clinton's foundation has received $1 million or more each from hotshots like Mala Gaonkar Haarman, a partner at a private investment partnership; Theodore Waitt, the founder of a private investment company who lives in La Jolla, Calif., where Romney has a beach getaway; Robert Disbrow, a VP at a brokerage firm; John Mackay, a director at a firm that makes equity capital investments in real estate; Paul Reynolds, the chief executive at an investment firm; and Julian Robertson Jr., a former hedge fund manager who has also donated to the super PAC supporting Romney.
One of Clinton's two biggest donations — more than $25 million each — came from a charity group based in London founded by Chris Hohn, a hedge fund manager.
On top of that, the ex-president has scooped up at least $65 million in speaking fees since leaving office. In 2010, the latest year for which public data is available through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's disclosure forms, Bill Clinton made $7.5 million in 36 speeches. Some of those were at places like TD Ameritrade, the founder of which is Joe Ricketts, whose super PAC bends to the right; Rodman & Renshaw, an investment bank; AlixPartners, a firm that specializes in "turnaround teams"; Skybridge Capital, an investment firm; Vista Equity Partners, a private-equity firm; LPL Financial Corporation, a broker-dealer; CME Group, a "derivatives marketplace"; and Barclays Capital, an investment bank.
So that might explain why in a recent interview, Clinton said Romney had a "sterling business career" at Bain, the private-equity firm that Obama has equated to the El Nino of working-class culture.
Or why Clinton suggested in a separate interview that the Bush tax cuts for the rich be extended temporarily.
Clinton today apologized for his remark about the Bush tax cuts, saying, "I'm very sorry for what happened." And he has said since his initial interviews that a Romney presidency would be "calamitous."
"It is an awkward situation. There's no question about it," said Bill Galston, a former adviser to Clinton. "He's going to be hard-put to say something that about which he has doubts."
The manner in which the Obama campaign has had to grapple with Clinton's candor and "walk back" his comments might make a former two-term president bristle. Though this is the comeback kid who came back to the White House while Obama was there to give his own press conference in the briefing room.
Other Democrats, too, have hinted to Obama that he should cut back on the Bain assault, and lately the president's campaign has tried to shift its focus to Romney's record as the governor of Massachusetts. Those warnings have come from the high-profile Obama supporters Cory Booker, the Newark mayor whose political career has been buttressed by Wall Street donations and who has tried to draw Wall Street money to his city, and Harold Ford, the former congressman who works for Morgan Stanley.
Clinton's damage has been done, and despite his penchant for ripping up the talking points, it would be rare to see him break from the Obama campaign's guidance again soon.
"For better or for worse, I don't think that he's particularly relished the past few days. I don't think he wants to repeat this experience," Galston said. "It's a little embarrassing to have your chain yanked."
Be sure to watch "This Week" on Sunday. We will get reaction to Clinton's recent comments from our powerhouse roundtable.