Cue the interviews with laid-off workers, who describe their health problems and their shattered towns. Romney brought down UniMac, a washing machine company, when Bain cheapened their products. “Sometimes we’d send a machine out without a part on it,” admits a shaken Romney survivor named Tommy Jones. “For Tracy and Tommy Jones,” says the narrator, “their brush with Mitt Romney and Bain nearly tore their family apart.”
UniMac, KB Toys, every company “looted” by Bain would have been fine if Romney hadn’t raided it, the film maintains. “Romney called it creative destruction,” says the narrator. (You’d never know that the term creative destruction was Joseph Schumpeter’s.) After the Tea Party took over the GOP, who thought that Republicans would start attacking laissez faire capitalism?
No one, that’s who. The GOP’s libertarian establishment, taken aback, has only just started defending Romney. The Club for Growth went hard after Gingrich’s newfound socialism: “Attacking Governor Romney for participating in free-market capitalism is just beyond the pale for any purported ‘Reagan Conservative.’ ”
The attack and the pushback are coming too late to make a difference in New Hampshire. No voter thinks Romney will lose here. But when I asked voters about Bain—admittedly, I was asking people who weren’t too warm on Romney—I started to hear why the Newt attack could work. “If I understand it,” said John O’Brien, a voter who planned to switch from Romney ’08 to Huntsman ’12, “he made his money at the expense of other companies. Didn’t he? He dismantled them, I think.”
In 2008, when he supported Romney, he didn’t ask about the Bain years, and until recently, he hadn’t thought much about it. But now he’s open to the critique. Republicans figured that the post-2008 collapse of trust in authority had been converted very smoothly into distrust for government. But Newt is betting that the distrust of corporate finance, of Wall Street, never really went away.
Romney ended his Monday with a rally down the road from Manchester, in Bedford. It was interrupted, like plenty of Romney’s rallies, by Occupy protesters. They were pulled away by cops as the candidate scorned them.
“What would you replace America with?” asked Romney. “What kind of system would you have?”
It’s a great rhetorical question when the choice is freedom or capitalism. But Romney’s desperate rivals won’t let it remain a simple choice.