Mitt Romney vs. Gordon Gekko

AP Photo / 20th Century Fox

Analysis from ABC News' Rick Klein:

Mitt Romney has met his worst enemy on the 2012 campaign trail, and his name isn't Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum or Ron Paul or even Barack Obama.

His name is Gordon Gekko. While Romney has none of the slicked-back swagger or hard edges of Michael Douglas' famous "Wall Street" character - and no allegation of anything approaching criminality - today Romney unfurled a classic that's worthy of the character who made the sentiment of "greed is good" famous.

"I like being able to fire people who provide services to me," Romney said today in Nashua, N.H..

That quote - edited, as it surely will be, to exclude his explanation that he's talking about people who don't provide adequate services - is primed to haunt Romney for as long as he's a presidential candidate.

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod quickly wrote on Twitter - Tongue wedged into his cheek - "Giving Mitt credit for a rare moment of candor."

But as the last few days have made clear, it's not just a general-election issue for Romney. His greatest strength as a candidate is being turned into a possible weakness (hello, John Kerry) by rivals inside his own party.

Romney made his vast fortune and stellar business reputation as a creator of jobs, an accumulator of human and financial wealth through his leadership of Bain Capital. But he did it through the little-understood world of venture capitalism, which involves a concept Romney himself has called "creative destruction."

It's that record that helped sink Romney in his 1994 campaign for Senate. Sen. Ted Kennedy and his fellow Democrats made famous paper-factory workers who lost their jobs while Bain owned the company.

Obama is poised to reprise that playbook, should Romney emerge as the nominee.

But Romney's fellow Republicans don't want to see him get that far, and are using his business record - the same one that underpins Romney's rationale for his candidacy - to argue that he's unelectable.

A Political Action Committee run by allies of Newt Gingrich is promising to put a staggering $3.4 million to tell South Carolina voters - as argued in a new documentary they're spreading - that Bain's "greed was matched only a willingness to do anything to make millions in profits."

Virtually all of Romney's rivals are now sensing a powerful issue. Jon Huntsman said today that the firing comment shows that Romney is "completely out of touch" with the American economy.

Rick Perry, skipping ahead a state, is calling it the "ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina and tell you he feels your pain, because he caused it."

Gingrich is equating Romney's business style with finding "clever legal ways to loot a company." Rick Santorum's stump speech includes a line about not needing a CEO as president, and he suggested at ABC's Saturday night debate in New Hampshire that Romney's background calls into question whether he "can inspire and paint a positive vision for this country."

Romney hasn't made matters easier for himself as he's tried to connect with voters on the economy. The son of a millionaire business titan said over the weekend: "I know what it's like to worry about whether or not you are going to get fired."

Gekko's ghost has haunted the Romney campaign from the start, from rumblings about a replay of 1994 right through the surfacing of a Bain publicity photo showing Romney and his colleagues with cash falling out of their pockets.

Despite Democrats' best attempts - one of those long-ago laid off workers has been trailing Romney around the Granite State this week - the latest developments are almost certainly happening too late to impact the voting in New Hampshire. Romney has built up a huge lead and is poised for a romp tomorrow in his backyard.

But this is the kind of sentiment that could build into something significant over the next 12 days, when South Carolina's Republicans become the next to weigh in on the race.

While the anti-Romney forces haven't coalesced behind a candidate, they have coalesced behind a message.

Read more about Romney at Bain and the politics of his business career.

UPDATE: It turns out that the Romney-Gekko link is already in the ether. The liberal group Americans United for Change last month launched a Website and publicity campaign suggesting a running mate for Romney - keying off the same photo of Romney and his colleagues and lots of money that I referenced.