“The Romney camp recognizes that they can’t afford to wait,” says former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, a senior Romney adviser. “They learned early on in this campaign that investing in preparation pays off — that responding quickly to deceitful attacks matters. They also learned that you have to talk frankly about capitalism, about how there are no guarantees, even when you are doing your best to create jobs.”
Gingrich’s primary-campaign criticisms of Romney’s wealth and Bain experience, one Romney insider adds, were “batting practice” for the general election, when they knew liberals would needle Romney. “This is something we’ve expected,” the insider says. “It doesn’t come as a shock that [Obama’s advisers] are trying to play up this angle.”
Both Gingrich’s primary ad and Obama’s general-election video, which feature testimonials from union workers, are provocative, but they’re hardly fresh, GOP operatives say. In tone and style, the gritty montages repeat the way Romney’s opponents have framed his private-sector work over the past two decades, with varying degree of success.
Ever since 1994, Romney has been battling his opponents over the nature of his responsibility for job losses at companies purchased by Bain Capital. That year, Kennedy, who was down in the polls, mounted a comeback late in the campaign, thanks to a hard-hitting commercial featuring angry employees from an Indiana paper plant that had been purchased by a Bain subsidiary.
Bob Shrum, Kennedy’s strategist during that campaign, tells NRO that Romney’s response to Obama will be more complicated than his response to Kennedy, because of his public persona as a detached businessman — a profile, he argues, that has hardened over the years.
“This Obama ad is effective because it undermines his central rationale, that he’s a businessman who creates jobs,” Shrum says. “In 1994, he responded poorly to the [Kennedy] ad, waiting days to take a position on it and refusing to meet with the workers when they came to visit him. He just took the hit. This time, he’s coming back, but as he does that, he reminds people of how much he personally profited.”
Gingrich, who used similar anti-Bain rhetoric, was roundly criticized by conservatives for demonizing capitalism. Romney’s advisers, betting that Americans have soured on the president’s handling of the economy, predict that the video will be interpreted as a fumbling attempt by Obama’s Chicago handlers to blame the market for his problems, and they shrug off the 1994 precedent.
“This is how far Obama has fallen,” Madden says. “The hope-and-change candidate of the future has been reduced to an ordinary politician who just points fingers because he doesn’t have a positive record to run on.”
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.