If Mitt Romney wins the South Carolina Republican primary on Jan. 21, it may be safe to start printing ballots for the November election. A win in the South for the moderate, former Massachusetts governor, where evangelical Christians and hard-right conservatives dominate the GOP, would be evidence that Republicans have embraced him as their standard-bearer.
Newt Gingrich, who confidently predicted his own victory just a few weeks ago, has launched an all-out assault on Mr. Romney. Or, to put it more accurately, a political action committee working to win Mr. Gingrich the nomination has launched the assault. It’s not just Mr. Romney’s moderate record on abortion and gay rights and government management of health care finance that his Republican opponents see as his Achilles’ heel. It’s Mr. Romney’s private sector business experience.
Mr. Romney boasts that he, unlike President Barack Obama, understands how the economy works. He released a 59-point jobs plan in the fall which, he claims, will create 11.5 million jobs during his first term.
Not so, fast, says Winning Our Future PAC, which is working to win Mr. Gingrich the nomination. The PAC produced the 28-minute webcast “When Mitt Romney Came to Town” which details Mr. Romney’s time running Bain Capital, a company which specialized in, according to the film, liquidating companies.
The film focuses on four businesses Bain Capital bought and closed, selling off physical and other assets and pocketing the profit. Early on, we see the now-infamous photograph of a young Mr. Romney posing with six other Bain executives, big denomination bills stuck in their mouths and collars. Capitalism made America great, an ominous sounding voice-over intones, but “in the wrong hands, those dreams can turn into nightmares.”
The first business liquidation featured is Unimac, a commercial laundry equipment manufacturer. Former workers describe how the family-run business was purchased by a larger firm, apparently orchestrated by Bain, and then Bain took over. One former worker says quality declined: “Sometimes we’d send machines out without a part in it.”
Bain earned 230 percent return on its investment.
Then it’s KB Toys, which Bain bought in 2000. By 2004, 365 stores were closed, 15,000 jobs were lost but Bain earned 900 percent on its investment. Then it’s the tech company, DDi. With the help of Lehman Brothers, Bain bought the firm, fired workers, put out a stock offering, earning it $170 million. The company stock went from $23 per share to one cent in two years; 2,100 jobs were lost and DDi ended in bankruptcy.
Finally, the film describes the fate of paper company Ampad. A former worker says, “Romney’s hatchet men moved in, hiring some, firing others,” and cutting pay for all. “They wanted the machinery,” another former worker says.
A clip of Mr. Romney in a round-table discussion features him saying “creative destruction does enhance productivity,” apparently describing Bain’s strategy. The film ends by noting that Mr. Romney’s personal wealth is estimated at $264 million.
Some of us may not be able to look our children in the eye after a day of closing businesses and firing people, but no where does the film suggest that Mr. Romney or Bain acted illegally. This is simply a facet of capitalism of which most are unaware.
But the thrust of the charges — stay tuned to Politifact, which has promised to evaluate the film’s claims — cast Mr. Romney in a different light. Is he more like Donald Trump or Michael Bloomberg, wealthy businessmen with political aspirations they can afford to indulge? Is he like Ross Perot, a wealthy businessman with a passion about the nation’s problems? Or is he a bright guy so savvy about the inner workings of the economy that he knew how to exploit it to his advantage?
Voters should understand who their candidates are. But they also should not expect them to be war heroes, philanthropists, humanitarians and altruists.