BEDFORD, N.H.—Steve Bannon and Rick Tyler stood near the entrance of JD’s Tavern, the Manchester Radisson’s inexplicably Western-themed ale house. Tyler, a former Newt Gingrich spokesman who now runs the Winning Our Future super-PAC, huddled with a cellphone, identity cloaked under a baseball cap. Bannon, the conservative director and radio host, was dressed and groomed as if he’d just motorcycle-jumped a POW camp fence. When Tyler finished his call, Bannon put another Blackberry in front of him, another number.
“Dana Loesch wants you on her show,” he said. “Biggest Tea Party radio show out there. She heard you tonight on my show. She flipped. Call her.”
It’d been a few hours since the New York Times ran a story about Tyler’s coup. His PAC, newly enriched by $5 million from gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson, had released a 27-minute documentary about Mitt Romney’s days at Bain Capital. The film—intended to be the foundation of an ad campaign in South Carolina, telling the state’s king-making Republican voters all about Romney’s days at Bain Capital—has it all: pulsing soundtrack, scary B-roll of men smoking cigarettes and shaking hands, three-Kleenex interviews with laid-off workers.
“Romney keeps talking about the 100,000 jobs he created,” said Tyler. “Those 100,000 jobs were in Mexico. And nobody’s been talking about it.”
This is the break-the-glass plan for Mitt’s GOP opponents: An attack on Romney’s brand of capitalism, funded by profits from the Venetian’s craps table. On Sunday, I heard Gingrich himself malign Romney as a “rich [person] figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company, leaving behind 1,700 families without a job.” It was surreal—Republicans aren’t known for bashing big business—and it may backfire. On Monday I drove around New Hampshire and heard conservatives struggling to understand it.
“I’ve known Newt Gingrich since 1994,” said Laura Ingraham in an interview with Tyler. “I’ve never heard Newt make a speech about predatory practices.”
“Newt is using the language of the left in going after Romney on Bain Capital,” sighed Rush Limbaugh. “That makes me uncomfortable.”
Limbaugh is completely right. The attack on Bain as some lumbering vampire, sucking wealth and mirth out of small towns, is exactly what Ted Kennedy’s strategist Bob Shrum used to smack Romney in his 1994 U.S. Senate race. Before the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic National Committee kept showing up at Romney rallies with people laid off from Bain-looted companies. (Let’s just use the Gingrich framework, for now.) These attacks from the left didn’t get a ton of attention because “Democratic Party Opposes Wealthy Republican’s Business Decisions” isn’t a very interesting story.
But a populist, anti-venture capital campaign that’s pitched to Republicans? That’s something else. When Mitt Romney Came to Town, the PAC’s movie, was put together by Jason Killian Meath—a video artist who once worked for Romney. (Meath didn’t respond to a request for comment today.) If you hired a documentarian from Occupy Wall Street and told him to make anti-Romney agitprop, he couldn’t do better. The movie portrays Romney as a heartless, Brylcreemed supervillain who “contribut[ed] to the greatest American job loss since World War II.”
It starts with imagery of Americans doing nice, American things. Capitalism, we’re told, is nice. It’s the reason the sun comes up over wheat fields and dads take their kids on hikes. (File footage might be the actual reason.) But Mitt Romney’s capitalism is so heinous that it can only be portrayed by the color draining out of an American flag. “Wall Street’s corporate leaders made billions of dollars,” moans a narrator. “Their greed was only matched by their willingness to make millions in profits. Nothing was spared. Nothing mattered but greed. This film is about one such raider and his firm.”