In an election dominated by the economy and jobs, Mitt Romney has positioned his service as the CEO of the private equity firm Bain Capital as the main asset of his run for the presidency. But as the attacks mount on Romney’s private sector leadership, could this asset turn into a liability?
For some these attacks by both the Obama campaign and now other Republicans harken back to what John Kerry faced related to his Vietnam war record. In 2004, in an election focused to a degree on national security, Kerry’s military record was seen by him and his campaign as a huge plus and something to be mentioned constantly. But over the summer of 2004 this positive of Kerry’s came under relentless attack, and for many voters Kerry’s Vietnam experience actually became a liability and a confusing story.
So now Romney faces a similar barrage. His time at Bain, while having many positives of creating jobs and helping companies, also has a story of downsizing some companies and layoffs. The Romney campaign will have to figure out the best way to either deflect the negatives or answer the charges.
Many observers repeat the mantra that this is a general election problem for Romney if the attacks stick, and the only thing Republican attacks on this Bain issue will do is soften Romney up for his possible race against President Obama in the fall if he is the nominee. While that is likely true, let’s also keep in mind that this could hurt him in the Republican nomination process especially in places like South Carolina.
While many still say the Republican party’s base is that of Wall Street and corporate America and big business, the real base of the Republican Party has become much more about working class (especially white males) in rural and small town areas of the country. This is where there is a great appeal of Sarah Palin’s and Ron Paul’s populist rhetoric attacking big government and corporate corruption and Wall Street excess. This is where a big part of the anger of the Republican Party is and of the Tea Party movement.
If the attacks on Romney related to Bain are done effectively and consistently and wrapped in a broader argument questioning his authenticity, it could really hurt him as he leaves New Hampshire and heads to South Carolina and then Florida. Those two stops on the nominating road could be problematic on the Bain issue because of their large segments of this angry populist vote.
For our grandfathers or our fathers this anti-Wall Street messaging might have fallen on deaf ears, but in today’s Republican Party there is a tremendous appeal to attacking excesses of both big business and big government.