He’d Like To Change the Subject
What’s keeping Romney from turning his Bain experience to his advantage?
Photograph by Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images.
Toward the end of the 2011 movie Margin Call, a thinly fictionalized drama about the subprime mortgage apocaylypse, a senior trader at a large bank drives past some classy new homes, and it sets him off. He tells a young associate
People want to live like this in their cars and their big fucking houses that they can’t even pay for?” he rants. “Then you’re necessary. The only reason they all get to continue living like kings is because we’ve got our fingers on the scales in their favor. I take my hand off and the whole world gets really fucking fair really fucking quickly and nobody actually wants that.
Replace one of the key words in there with “gosh-darn,” and I think you’ve got the tone conservatives want Mitt Romney to strike. Why, when Bain Capital comes up, does the candidate go into a crouch? When he miked up for a media tour to clean up the story last week, why didn’t he defend the private equity group he’d founded? The closest he came, in an interview with Jan Crawford, was “I'm happy that Bain went on, on its own, and did a number of terrific things.”
What kind of terrific things? The Obama campaign’s multi-pronged attack against Bain criticizes the company, and Romney, for profiting from outsourcing by investing in companies like Global-Tech Appliances, and for making money from the failure of companies like AmPad. Angry laid-off workers have been cinema verite’d and placed in ads. SEC documents have been discovered, used to Raise Questions.
Republicans are increasingly perplexed about this line of attack. This is how business works, they say to themselves. Who doesn’t know that? “We do know that the ability to export business around the world creates high-quality American jobs,” says Sen. Jim DeMint, who ran a market research firm before entering politics. “So, the idea that a company that has overseas subsidiaries is somehow hurting American jobs—the president counts that as outsourcing? The president doesn’t understand business.”
But the attacks are getting things done. Watching the Obama campaign force Romney to roll back the Bain claims he has made has been excruciating. Two months ago, the Romney campaign argued that their candidate deserved credit for “100,000 jobs,” because that was how many successful projects Bain had helped to fund. Obama allies quibbled with the math. When she launched the new Bain attacks, in a Web video responding to the Washington Post’s investigative Bain story, Obama-Biden deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter shamed Romney for vetoing “legislation that would have banned companies from shipping jobs overseas if they did business” with Massachusetts. “Now, that’s just good common sense,” said Cutter (even though her own incumbent candidate hasn’t implemented any legislation like that).
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.