Romney Faces a Dragon in Jobs Sent to China

PHOTO: US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney addresses a campaign rally at Cornwall Iron Furnace in Cornwall, Pennsylvania, June 16, 2012.EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/GettyImages
U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney addresses a campaign rally at Cornwall Iron Furnace in Cornwall, Pa., June 16, 2012.

A conveniently timed piece on Mitt Romney in The Washington Post has given Democrats a big chance to label him as a proponent of outsourcing jobs, a line of attack that brings together the economy, a little-known career at a private-equity firm, and China.

The thrust of the Post's reporting is that while Romney ran Bain Capital, the firm invested in companies that moved jobs from the United States to China, India and other inexpensive countries. Presumably, that type of mentality cuts against Romney's position as a presidential candidate, which is that America is No. 1.

The Democratic Party has seized on the report. Already this week, President Obama unveiled a TV ad that called Romney a "corporate raider" who "shipped jobs to China and Mexico" while at Bain. (And, bonus, to India when he was the governor of Massachusetts.) None of the reports cited are new.

"It's obviously going to be one of our messages against him, because he made this the centerpiece of his campaign," Richard Trumka, the labor leader, said on a conference call with reporters. "He said that his business experience qualifies him to be president."

The Romney campaign disputed the Post story, but only on the basis of semantics. The report, said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul, "does not differentiate between domestic outsourcing versus offshoring nor versus work done overseas to support U.S. exports."

"Oh, please," retorted Jonathan Pollack, a senior fellow at Brookings's John L. Thornton China Center. "That is a distinction that only the cognoscenti would focus on."

Saul's statement has been the entirety of the response from Romney's side, and Obama's team has filled the void.

David Axelrod, Obama's chief campaign strategist, called Romney an "outsourcer-in-chief."

Leo Hindery, a supporter tapped by the Obama campaign to attack Romney, said that Bain "moved thousands and thousands of good-paying American jobs offshore."

Bruce Ayers, a state representative in Massachusetts, said the overseas experience continued after Bain:

"He was shipping jobs overseas," Ayers said. "This wasn't what Massachusetts people were told, and we're paying for it now."

Don't be surprised if the phrase "outsourcing pioneer" catches on. That's the term that Leo Gerard, another labor leader, used to describe Romney.

Obama, himself, referred to the Post story in a speech in Florida, saying, "We don't need an outsourcing pioneer in the Oval Office."

The strategy might stick to Romney because of what Pollack called "economic nationalism."

"These issues rear their head in campaigns any time that there is significant economic uncertainty in the United States," he said.

In 2003, the Boston Business Journal reported that while Romney was governor, Bain was invested in an IT company that sent many of its jobs to India and to China.

Romney has promised to "stand up to China" on his first day as president, and he's amplified the virtues of exceptional American jobs on the stump while casting the Chinese in dark aspersions.

"When this president ran for office, he said he was concerned about how China was not playing fair, not playing by the rules, and he said he'd take them to the mat," Romney said in March. "Well, since then, they've walked all over him. What China does is cheat when it comes to trade policy."