I don’t know about you, but I’m angry.
I’m used to politics and its dirtiness and hypocrisy, the misrepresentations one candidate routinely makes about the other. They all pretty much do it, especially in their ads. This does not surprise me.
But I can’t recall an attack that’s made me as angry as the one launched by Gingrich, and to a lesser extent Perry and Huntsman, against Romney’s record at Bain Capital. Before I even read this editorial in National Review (with which I agree), I was aghast when I saw some of their statements on the news last night.
Readers of this blog know that my preferred candidate this year is Romney. And not just because he’s more electable (although polls show he’s that), but because I think he’s competent, smart, conservative enough—and, very importantly, has an understanding of the business world that not only prospective opponent Obama lacks, but that Romney’s current Republican rivals lack as well.
As I said, I’ve seen one candidate unfairly misrepresent something about the other before; it happens all the time, although I never like it. But this one is different. I can’t recall a time when the attack featured statements that violated basic principles that the attacker and his/her party were supposed to stand for—such as, for instance, knowledge of what capitalism is and what sometimes happens when companies are failing. Any candidate who wants to run against the bailouts cannot attack Romney for what he did at Bain, which was to try to save failing companies by (among other things) cutting costs, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, and to make money into the bargain. Any candidate who wants to appeal to people who would like a president who actually knows something about how business works cannot attack Romney for what he did at Bain (unless, of course, he was unethical in some way, which is not being alleged).
But that’s what they (especially Gingrich) are doing. Here’s NR on the subject:
Newt Gingrich’s risible super-PAC factotum has gone to the length of producing a feverish little film about Romney’s tenure as a “corporate raider” at Bain. Governor Perry, for his part, told a Republican audience: “If you are the victim of Bain Capital’s downsizing, it is the ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina and tell you he feels your pain — he caused it.” To appropriate Governor Perry’s favorite adjective, that is the ultimate in populist pandering, or something close to it.
Huntsman’s private-sector experience consists of having served as an executive at the firm owned by his billionaire father. Gingrich and Perry have between them about eleven minutes’ worth of relevant private-sector experience — Perry being subsidized by the federal government to farm cotton, Gingrich subsidizing himself by farming his political connections — and therefore may not know (or care) what a private-equity firm such as Bain does. (Gingrich might consider asking his friends at leveraged-buyout firm Forstmann Little, where he was on the board.) Bain is involved in, among other things, leveraged buyouts, meaning that the firm and its investors borrow money from banks to acquire companies, usually firms that are in trouble but believed to be salvageable. These firms generally are bought on the theory that they represent fundamentally sound underlying business enterprises that are for one reason or another performing deficiently, usually because of incompetent management. Strong, thriving companies rarely are targets for leveraged-buyout acquisitions — if things are going well, there is no incentive to sell the company. If the firms are publicly traded, they often are taken private, their stocks delisted from the exchanges, and then reorganized. Once the company has been returned to profitability, it is taken public again or sold to a private buyer, in the hopes of turning a profit on the deal.
As you can imagine, companies that are buyout targets often are in very poor shape, and reviving them is no small thing. Many of them go into bankruptcy. Product lines are discontinued, retail locations are closed, assets are sold off, and, almost inevitably, jobs are lost. Some never recover. When the restructuring is successful, reinvigorated firms expand, add locations, develop new products, and create jobs. That is the creative destruction of capitalism…
[T]o abominate Mitt Romney for having been a success at the business of investing in struggling American companies, connecting entrepreneurs with capital and producers with markets, is foolish and destructive. Republicans ought to know better, and the fact that Gingrich et al. apparently do not is the most disturbing commentary on the state of the primary field so far.
This is very different from attacking the attackers for merely attacking; the big problem is the form the attack takes. These people are supposed to be the principled conservatives; you know, the ones who don’t toss out their beliefs when it’s expedient.
So what’s happening here? These guys know that if they don’t raise their poll numbers and lower Romney’s pretty soon it’s going to be curtains for them. As a result, they’ve become the equivalent of the drowning man who, in his desperate efforts to save himself, clutches at people around him and manages to drag them down too. And that includes their own supposedly conservative principles, and may include Republican chances for victory this year as well.
[ADDENDUM: I don't usually listen to Rush Limbaugh, but today he's tearing into Gingrich for this. And Limbaugh is hardly a Romney fan.]
[ADDENDUM II: Ron Paul shows some class.]
[ADDENDUM III: Jay Nordlinger nails it:
I fled the Democratic party many years ago. And one of the reasons was, I couldn’t stand the class resentment, the envy, the hostility to wealth, the cries of “Richie Rich!” And I hear them from conservatives, at least when Romney is running.
Go ahead, have your “bloodbath” in South Carolina. Make Romney the little guy in the top hat and tails, from the Monopoly game. Have your Santorum, your Perry, your Newt. They may carry something like four states in the fall, but at least they’ve never sullied their hands with — eek! — business.]