Conservatives are savaging Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry for their attacks on Mitt Romney’s years at the private-equity firm Bain Capital.
The attacks from Gingrich and Perry, whose presidential campaigns are on life support, are meant to resonate in South Carolina, the next state on the GOP calendar and a place hit hard by the economic downturn.
Yet in slamming Romney as a corporate raider, the two candidates fighting for their party’s right-wing might have done what Romney never seemed capable of: rallying conservatives around the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign.
The influential Wall Street Journaleditorial page denounced the criticism as “crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism” on Tuesday, saying that “desperate” GOP candidates “sound like Michael Moore,” the left-wing filmmaker and provocateur.
Other prominent conservatives similarly bemoaned what they viewed as liberal attack tactics that will be copied by President Obama’s campaign in November.
Conservative talk radio stalwart Rush Limbaugh said Monday of Gingrich’s criticism that “you could have read this in an Occupy Wall Street flier.”
“You could, after all these bites, say, ‘I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message,’” Limbaugh said.
Former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Tuesday warned on Fox News that candidates should shift the debate from “anti-capitalist mantra to what it is that the GOP really represents in free markets.”
Some conservatives are also warning that the attacks will backfire by galvanizing conservatives who see criticism of Romney’s Bain record as an attack on the cornerstone principle of free market capitalism.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) — who has not endorsed in the GOP primary race — predicted the arguments would drive Republican voters toward Romney in the upcoming South Carolina primary.
DeMint said Tuesday that Romney’s critics were “sounding like Democrats” in their attacks
“Frankly, I’m a little concerned about the few Republicans who have criticized some of what I consider free market principles here,” DeMint told talk radio host Mark Levin. “We know over half of new businesses fail … that’s part of the creative-destruction process of free enterprise.”
Gingrich and Perry are giving their critics plenty of ammunition as they attack Romney.
A pro-Gingrich political action committee in South Carolina spent $3.4 million on a buy featuring ads deriding Romney as a “predatory corporate raider” and “scavenger.”
Perry piled on, calling attempts by Romney to sympathize with voters worried about losing their jobs “the ultimate insult.”
“I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips — whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out because his company Bain Capital with all the jobs that they killed, I’m sure he was worried that he’d run out of pink slips,” Perry said while campaigning in South Carolina.
GOP strategist Ford O’Connell warned that Republicans are playing with fire.
“If the Romney attacks are seen as an attack on ‘free enterprise,’ it will backfire, because fiscal conservatives see ‘free enterprise’ as the cornerstone of conservative ideology and will protect ‘free enterprise’ at all costs,” he said.
Gingrich has maintained that his criticism is not anti-capitalist but an issue of fairness.
“I think you have to look at the specific companies we are talking about and you have to ask yourself a very tough-minded question: Is it fair to have a system, is it right, is it the kind of country you want to live in, to have a system where somebody comes in [to] take over your company, take out all the cash and leave behind a wreck, and they go off to a country club having a great time and you go off to the unemployment line,” Gingrich said Tuesday in an interview with Fox News.
“Now this is not anti-capitalism, I am not for socialism, I am not for government stopping risk-taking, but I am for some sense of fairness that the entrepreneur and the worker have a joint investment in something succeeding.”
Romney said Wednesday that Bain-related criticisms “fell flat” in New Hampshire.
“They tried it very hard, ran ads here, were up and down the state campaigning, and people in the state here said, ‘Look, we want a guy who spent some time in the private sector, not someone who spent their entire life in Washington.’ So I think it’s working for my benefit,” he told ABC.
But judging from Vice President Biden’s comments Tuesday night, conservatives are right to think Democrats are gleeful to have Republicans using their talking points on the likely GOP standard-bearer.
“He thinks it’s more important for the stockholders and the shareholders and the investors and the venture capital guys to do well [than] for those employees to be part of the bargain,” Biden said during a teleconference with New Hampshire supporters.