— Bud Norman
Mitt Romney’s rather easy victory in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary wasn’t unexpected, as he was once governor of a neighboring state and had been campaigning there for the past five years, but we were surprised by the strange line of attack his rivals attempted.
A solid background in business has been Romney’s main selling point to conservatives who are wary of such deviations from conservative orthodoxy, especially the Obamacare-like reforms Romney enacted as governor of Massachusetts, so his challengers attempted to use his successful years with the Bain Capital investment firm against him. The company made a great deal of money by buying failing businesses and making them profitable, a process that sometimes involved axing extraneous workers, and Romney’s challengers somehow found that offensive.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich started it off by accusing Romney of “bankrupting companies and laying off employees.” Rick Perry, Texas’ adroit but tongue-tied governor, piled on by comparing Bain Capital to “vultures.” Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who fought Romney to a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses, went so far as to take Romney’s comment that “I like being able to fire people” when choosing health care insurance plans and edited it down for an advertisement to “I like being able to fire people.”
Such tactics are to be expected from the Democrats, who are so constitutionally opposed to firing anyone for any reason that Nancy Pelosi remains their leader in the House of Representatives, but it seems a strange thing to do in a Republican primary, where most of the voters have a favorable opinion of capitalism and understand that it sometimes entails laying off workers. The argument might have even increased Romney’s appeal by reminding voters that he has experience taking over organizations awash in red ink and paring them down to an economically functioning size, which is exactly what the next president will need to do with the federal government, and it can’t help his rivals to be sounding like some bleeding-heart Occupy camper.
We expect to hear a lot more about Bain Capital and its ruthless ways if Romney wins the nomination, which looks all the more likely after Tuesday’s win, but we’re not convinced it will work much better with the general electorate. Romney will have ample opportunity to explain that if some workers hadn’t been laid off their companies would have gone out of business, leaving everyone out of work, and that Bain Capital’s efforts have resulted in a net increase in jobs. A large number of people are so resentful of anyone with the power to fire, and so fearful of being fired, that they will be susceptible to the anti-Bain arguments, but we expect that most Americans will be able to see the bigger picture, and that everyone likes being able to “fire” people by taking their business elsewhere.
— Bud Norman