Democrats are giddy that the Republicans’ leading candidate is being attacked over his background as a businessman — by Republicans.
Mitt Romney’s experience in the private sector has, over half a year, evolved from one of the candidate’s greatest strengths into a target that draws more attention the more it is scrutinized.
Romney’s business background has surprisingly eclipsed his other items on his resume, including his tenure as the Massachusetts governor who oversaw the health care initiative that the White House says it used as a model for ObamaCare, possibly the most hated aspect of the Obama administration within the Republican Party.
The irony is that Romney’s rivals in the GOP, which is typically considered the party that supports business, are criticizing him for his business leadership at a time when the economy is voters’ top concern.
“The whole thing is all reminiscent of sort of Rovian politics,” said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Take someone’s perceived strength and turn it into weakness.”
Romney has opened himself up to attacks with comments that make him appear out of touch with workers.
On Sunday, Romney — a multi-millioniare who was the son of a millionaire — claimed that that “there were a couple of times I wondered if I was going to get a pink slip,” but he didn’t specify when. The next day, Rick Perry said, “I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips — whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out.”
Romney also said Monday that he likes “being able to fire people who provide services to me,” “if somebody doesn’t give me the good service I need.” Jon Huntsman, who hopes to make a serious challenge to Romney in the New Hampshire primary, used that opportunity to say that Romney “enjoys firing people.”
Much of the heat is coming from Romney’s history at the investment firm Bain Capital. A so-called super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich announced today it plans to spend millions of dollars in South Carolina before the state’s primary to portray Romney as the leader of a firm that “destroyed” the American dream for thousands of people.
Asked whether he’s helping Democrats by throwing mud at the Republican front-runner, Gingrich told ABC News that “if someone is going to crumble, it’s better that they do it before the nomination.”
Democrats are happy to watch Romney get pummeled by the other Republican contenders.
“The challengers are poking and prodding at each other, and I think it’s appropriate for them to do that,” said Michael Barr, a former assistant Treasury secretary in the Obama administration. “Letting the Republicans play this out for a period of time makes sense.”
David Axelrod, one of President Obama’s top campaign advisers, wrote on Twitter that Romney’s comment about firing people was a “rare moment of candor.” The Democratic National Committee has called Romney’s claim that he created 100,000 jobs while at Bain “bogus,” and the party has mocked him for saying he feared getting a “pink slip,” calling him a “millionaire 200 times over.”
Some of the criticism of Romney’s time at Bain Capital isn’t warranted, at least to one business expert.
Jackson Nickerson, a Washington University professor who follows the way businesses make strategic decisions, characterized Romney’s record at Bain as “pretty successful.” A company’s success, Nickernson said, is not measured in how many jobs it creates for the country, but rather in the creation of value for customers.
“I think it’s an unfair attack, because it’s not about jobs. If it were about jobs, it would be a socialist country,” said Nickerson, who said he doesn’t support any candidate. “What would have happened to these firms if they hadn’t been acquired and renovated by Romney and his team?”
Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, responded to the super PAC ads about Bain by saying that “unlike President Obama and Speaker Gingrich, Mitt Romney spent his career in business and knows what it will take to turn around our nation’s bad economy.”