Mitt Romney knows he has one large electoral problem, and it’s his time spent as CEO of Bain Capital during the 1980s and 1990s. If there’s one thing the left and Obama know how to demagogue against (disingenuously, perhaps, but that’s for another day), it’s big-business “Wall Street Fat Cats”. But that specific line of attack only really hurts him with the left-wing Democrat base, which he need not worry about. It’s the Republican base he has to fear, even though it has traditionally resisted this attack, as “Wall Street Greed” has traditionally been seen by conservatives as an ugly but necessary part of free-market capitalism.
To that point, this 25-minute short film, “When Mitt Romney Came To Town”, is an intriguing case in what may be one of the most sophisticated Presidential campaign “black-ops” we have ever seen. The film tells the story of a few examples of Romney’s “creative destruction” at Bain Capital, through the eyes of blue-collar workers whose jobs were eliminated due to the “corporate raiding” of Mitt’s firm. Watch for yourself, and you’ll see this takes a decidedly left-wing tone: it says, essentially, “Romney destroyed the lives of thousands of poor helpless blue-collar workers”. It’s a tone that, while dramatic, does not really resonate with the Republican base, which generally accepts the thesis that bankruptcy and “creative destruction” are a legitimate part of the free market. So the question is: why would Newt Gingrich be so foolish as to use this film to try to rally the conservative base against Romney?
While countless conservative commentators have rightly chastised Gingrich and Rick Perry for promoting the left-wing populist angle used in this film to attack Romney (conservatives do not want their candidates to be seen as attacking capitalism), most have gone a step further and given Mitt Romney the ultimate weapon in securing the Republican nomination: they’ve told conservative voters to LAY OFF BAIN! Only Sarah Palin, in her numerous Fox News appearances in recent days, has refused to declare Bain “off-limits”, and has advised voters to take a close look at Mitt’s record – in particular, his claims of job creation, and his possible use of his corporate takeovers to attract government subsidies and bailouts. In fact, last night on Sean Hannity’s program, she used the key word that I think explains what’s going on here: inoculation.
Which gets me to my theory: this film was subversively created by the Romney campaign itself, in order to achieve this desired result of inoculation on Bain. The reason he needs to create the meme out there that “an attack on Bain is an attack on capitalism”, is because of the aforementioned Governor Palin, and her rallying the Republican base around the cause of Crony Capitalism. The Tea Party base of the party is now wise to the concept of statism, cronyism, corporatism, and corruption coming from the big-business side of the economy. The type of capitalism Romney engaged in with Bain is a problem with the Tea Party base not because he put people out of work (many types of capitalism involve the elimination of jobs), but because the businesses and jobs themselves were not a factor at all in the business decisions of Bain, just collateral damage that, on the aggregate, has been extremely harmful to America. Jobs, and the businesses themselves, were irrelevant to the partners at Bain. What Bain and other corporate raiders actually do is not “turn around failing companies. It’s the search for opportunities on balance sheets, stock prices, and regulatory environments, to exploit through political connections and complex financial instruments, to create paper profits, and damn the consequences.
It’s a complex discussion that can take volumes to fully explain. But what Romney’s campaign has discovered it needs to hide is the fact that the profits at Bain usually could not occur without the exploitation of political contacts, regulatory loopholes, and questionable complex financial tactics. So while Newt and Perry were foolish enough to take the bait on this film’s apparent attack on capitalism itself, Palin will continue to try to drag them back from the edge of self-destruction by rescuing the narrative. Romney’s problem is a Crony Capitalism problem, and he knows it. That’s why it’s no coincidence, this film was produced by Jason Killian Meath, a former business associate and 2008 campaign leader for Mitt Romney himself. Romney’s team, consisting undoubtedly of many brilliant and experienced tactical political operators, is loving the effect this film is having. Mission accomplished? We’ll see how successful the savviest political minds, including Governor Palin, are at rescuing the narrative.