The Resilience of Bain-Bashing

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 5 2012 2:33 PM

The Resilience of Bain-Bashing

Robert Draper's profile of the pro-Obama Super PAC, Priorities USA, write the last page in the book of Bain-bashing. The PAC has spent all of its ad money so far -- $10 million -- on Bain-bashing ads. Polling reveals that the bashing worked, and Bill Burton, the co-founder and face of the PAC, tells Draper that he knew it would. The Democrats who gave the Romney campaign some "DISARRAY" quotes are tied to the private equity world. Priorities USA, gloriously, can raise money from people who were successful in the private sector and use their money to bash it.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

If anything, I think Draper understates how much octane you can get out of Bain-bashing. "Newt Gingrich also tried it during this year’s Republican primaries," he writes, "and the tactic blew up in his face, when a pro-Gingrich super PAC released an anti-Bain video full of inaccuracies, which Gingrich then disavowed."

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Eventually, yes, Gingrich lost. But the Bain campaign didn't backfire. Winning Our Future, the pro-Newt PAC, debuted the ads and campaign on January 8. I remember chatting about the video with Steve Bannon, the director of the Palin documentary The Undefeated, and hearing him explain that Romney's business record would destroy him. And 13 days later, in South Carolina, Gingrich handed Romney his first Southern defeat.

It's tough to write about the South without factoring in Romney's religion. He scored only 10 percent -- 10 percent! -- of voters who said religion mattered "a great deal." But there's some evidence that Bain hurt, too. Gingrich scored one of his only populist victories in the primary, beating Romney by 19 points among voters who said they were "falling behind." A majority -- 64 percent -- of Republican voters said that they viewed Romney's business career favorably. But Republican primary voters are likely to view Bain specifically, and capitalism generally, more positively than anyone else.

Back to Draper. He writes that the Bain assault eventually backfired when the PAC ran a flawed ad. But that wasn't all. Romney, bruised in South Carolina, started running ads that attacked Gingrich's post-Speakership career as a high-paid consultant for Freddie Mac. See, he ripped people off, too, and he did it in a way that helped start the housing crisis! Water duly muddied, the conservative punditocracy already angry at the idea of trashing private equity, Romney powered back and won Florida.

But Democrats learned how to use Bain. The goal, as Draper implies, is to make Romney so cold and unappealing that voters are willing to believe he'll implement policies that hurt them.

When Priorities informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan — and thus championed “ending Medicare as we know it” — while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.

Of course, he does favor all of that.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.