Newt Gingrich’s barbs against Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s old investment firm, during the Republican presidential-primary campaign were merely an appetizer. Months later, the Obama campaign is launching its own Bain blitz, releasing a maudlin, two-minute montage of disgruntled steelworkers who supposedly lost their jobs because of Romney’s ruthlessness.
The campaign spot, which focuses on GST Steel, formerly of Kansas City, Mo., casts Romney as a Wall Street “vampire” who restructured the company, sold its parts, and left town before it went belly-up.
Romney has dealt with such attacks before, most memorably during his 1994 Senate race in Massachusetts against Ted Kennedy. But how the Romney campaign responds to this Obama broadside will say much about its general-election strategy, and its defense of Romney’s past.
Several Republican strategists, in background chats, tell National Review Online that this moment is a critical test for Team Romney, which needs to assert its ability to return fire on the Bain front.
“Obama’s bumper sticker about Bain, about how big financial institutions are evil, beats an essay describing how private equity and Romney’s work are part of the solution,” says Ed Rogers, a veteran Republican consultant. “Romney has to be careful to not get chased on specific ventures, and instead focus on the bigger economic picture.”
Romney advisers spent much of Monday mounting a counterattack. In conversations with reporters and through campaign memos, the campaign scurried to define Romney’s Bain record on its own terms; it also took care to point out factual problems with Obama’s critique.
“The ad is not only hypocritical, it’s a summary judgment of exactly why [Obama] has failed to lead the American economy,” Kevin Madden, a top Romney adviser, tells NRO. “It’s an example of Obama being divisive, looking backward and trying to blame anyone but himself for his lack of progress as a president.”
On an afternoon conference call, Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser, echoed that message. “We’ll make sure the facts get out there,” he said, including the fact that when GST Steel declared bankruptcy in 2001, Romney was two years removed from Bain Capital and running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“There were successes and there were failures; that’s the nature of the private marketplace,” Gillespie said, reflecting on Romney’s role. He acknowledged that some employees may have lost their jobs due to Bain’s management, but only because the firm wanted to grow and sustain the business — not because it wanted to wanted to fire workers.
“This White House and president don’t really understand the nature of the private sector,” Gillespie said. Instead of backing away from Romney’s time at Bain, he continued, the campaign will highlight Romney’s successes in the coming weeks, from his leadership at Staples and the Sports Authority to his involvement with Steel Dynamics, a company that, Patrick Brennan reports, grew under Bain Capital’s supervision, building new plants in the late 1990s.
Later Monday, the Romney campaign released its own video featuring steelworkers from Steel Dynamics, who spoke positively about Romney’s role in creating industrial jobs in the Rust Belt. The ad, “American Dream,” was seen by GOP political professionals as an example of how the Romney team was prepared for the Obama attack.
Other Romney advisers and surrogates underscore the importance of contrasting Romney’s private-sector leadership with Obama’s public-sector failures. It’ll be important, one outside adviser says, for Romney to push back on the inaccurate Obama spin, and, in the process, to knock Obama for talking clumsily about business.