It goes without saying that Mitt Romney is an extraordinarily weak front-runner. It’s not hard to see why. Romney’s not a conservative. He flip-flops so much that it’s almost impossible to really know where he stands on any issue. He was a mediocre, unpopular governor in Massachussetts and his signature piece of legislation, Romneycare, was an enormous failure. He also inspires very little enthusiasm and he’s only ahead right now because the conservative vote is split amongst several other candidates. Basically the only real asset Mitt has going for him — beyond his ability to buy an election, the mainstream media easing up on him because it wants him as the GOP nominee, and the support of the Republican establishment — is his one redeeming virtue, his business experience.
That being said, there’s a big problem with his one redeeming virtue: it’s very much a mixed bag.
Yes, Mitt ran a company, made money, and helped create some jobs (We really have no idea how many. Oddly, Mitt doesn’t seem to have made much of an effort to put together a real count — which is probably a bad sign). All those things are to be applauded and on balance, Romney’s experience at Bain Capital should be perceived as an asset. Yet and still, everything Romney did at Bain Capital shouldn’t be applauded. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Yes, Romney created jobs. He also got a bailout at Bain Capital. He also made huge profits directly off of buying out companies and putting a lot of poor and middle class Americans out of work. They lost their jobs. He got rich off of putting them in the unemployment line.
From the not-for-public-consumption research I’ve been given, Romney put over 17,000 people out of work. Many of them are probably not particularly happy with him for very understandable reasons. If Mitt Romney’s the nominee, you’ll be hearing from people like that all year long. You’ll also be hearing about bailouts, taxpayers picking up the tab so Mitt Romney could make money, and profitable companies that Bain hollowed out, looted, and left to die.
You’ll be seeing ads like this one, too. It’s from a Super Pac supporting Newt Gingrich and it’s DEVASTATINGLY effective. Before you even consider backing Mitt Romney, you should imagine ads like this being run in constant circulation for the rest of the year in states like Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, & West Virginia. The final words of what is probably the single most powerful ad of the entire Republican primary season so far? “For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began…when Mitt Romney came to town.”
There’s a lot to be said for candidates with business experience, but one thing you can’t say about them is that they’re particularly electable. Think back to the three most prominent Republican business leaders running for office in 2010. The first two were Carly Fiorina (CEO of Hewlett-Packard) and Meg Whitman (CEO and President of eBay). It’s worth noting that both Fiorina and Whitman were moderate candidates who were backed by the establishment over more conservative, and I believe, more electable candidates. Both of them were also even more successful than Mitt Romney in the business world — and both of them lost.
However, the third most prominent business candidate is the one who’s probably the most comparable to Mitt Romney. That would be Linda McMahon. Once again, she was another moderate candidate who was backed by the establishment over a more conservative, more electable challenger and once again, she lost. McMahon was the CEO and President of World Wrestling Entertainment. She helped build the company into a billion dollar enterprise, her business experience was admirable, and it would have made her an asset in the Senate. But like Mitt, her business experience turned out to be both a strength and a major weakness. Despite pouring enormous amounts of cash into the campaign, McMahon’s opponents in the state pummeled her with her record at the WWE and she ended up losing by 10 points — and let me tell you, they didn’t hit McMahon with anything that was nearly as effective as the ad that’s linked above.
Now, some people are going to complain that this is being brought up at all. They shouldn’t. They should be thanking this PAC for running these ads because this will be a major theme of the election if Mitt becomes the nominee. If Mitt turns out to be the Republican candidate, the Obama campaign will portray him as the 1%er creep who makes $10,000 bets while he’s stomping the faces of ordinary Americans into the dirt. All year long, we’ll have people who look like your mother, your father, your grandfather, and your grandmother in ads talking about how Mitt showed up one day, cut their benefits, worked them like animals, fired them like dogs, and built a new mansion while they couldn’t buy Christmas gifts for their kids. Mitt will be portrayed as a locust who showed up, gobbled up the food other people planted, and then flew off leaving them with nothing.
Incidentally, although Bain Capital did more good than harm, there’s some truth to that. Mitt wasn’t always a well meaning guy who just wanted to help turn businesses around. There were times when Bain Capital rowed in like Vikings, plundered all it could, and left decimation in its wake. Should that be illegal? Nope. Is it part of capitalism? Sure. On balance, was Bain Capital probably more of an economic plus than a minus? Yes. But — and this is a big but — are there going to be a lot of people who resent what was done to a bunch of ordinary Joes by the Bain Capital Vikings? Oh, you bet there will be. Ted Kennedy beat Mitt Romney’s brains in with his time at Bain Capital, you can bet Obama will try to do the same, and guess what? It’s entirely possible that it might work in an environment where the American people are sick to death of well-connected rich guys with a sense of entitlement getting a free ride while regular people get taken to the cleaners. If you don’t think Mitt Romney, who took a bailout at Bain Capital, supported TARP, and said he was open to future bailouts will fit into that mold pretty well, then you’re kidding yourself.