Attacks on Romney's Bain career backfire with Limbaugh and party leaders, but they could still resonate with voters
I’ve got to admit it: Liberals are at a disadvantage when it comes to judging where the GOP primary is headed. Last week I was sure that conservatives were settling on Rick Santorum, and his supposed blue-collar family values, as the official not-Mitt Romney candidate after his strong Iowa showing. Not quite yet. Sunday I was sure Newt Gingrich’s slashing “King of Bain” ad, attacking Romney as a looter and a job destroyer for his Bain Capital record, would be devastating in a country where the economy is the top issue and unemployment remains high.
It was devastating, all right. To Gingrich. The former House speaker got a beatdown from fellow conservatives this week, with Rush Limbaugh mocking him as an Occupy Wall Street supporter and the National Review harrumphing at the notion that Gingrich targeted Romney’s Bain success because he “apparently expect(s) Republican voters to regard that as a liability.” By the time he made his “I’m tied for fourth place!” speech in New Hampshire Tuesday night, Gingrich looked broken. He abandoned his slashing attacks on Romney’s career and stuck to decrying the “years of decay” under President Obama, recounting his alleged successes as House speaker in the ’90s, and rambling wearily about “innovation.” A few minutes later, over on Fox, a disapproving Sean Hannity smacked sixth-place loser Rick Perry for his attacks on Romney, and echoed Limbaugh’s sneering comparison with Occupy Wall Street ideology.
It’s an interesting moment. Multiple news organizations reported that even close allies are telling Gingrich to cut out the attacks on Romney, but he’s already purchased an estimated $1.5 million in South Carolina airtime for his “House of Bain” spots, plus a nasty ad claiming Romney had “governed pro-abortion” in Massachusetts. What’s Gingrich going to do? He hates Romney, but he loves predatory capitalism as much as Limbaugh does. He doesn’t believe his own Bain Capital attacks. Can he continue to hurt Romney without damaging his own chances to return to the right-wing gravy train when he goes down to defeat? Trust me, the monied interests are not interested in hiring anti-capitalist “historians” to not-lobby for them. Gingrich is torn between vengeance and greed. Sucks to be him. Fun to watch.
It’s also fun to watch conservative Republicans rally around Romney not because they like him but because he’s become the face of the hallowed free market. As he headed to conservative South Carolina, hotbed of Tea Party radicalism, Romney got a boost from its extremist Sen. Jim DeMint, who predicted the former Massachusetts governor would win the Jan. 21 primary. DeMint is staying neutral, he told radio host Mark Steyn Tuesday night, “because Republicans are not yet united and I want to focus on the Senate.” But he praised Romney’s victory speech for “hitting a lot of the hot buttons for me about balancing the budget,” adding “Frankly, I’m a little concerned about the few Republicans who have criticized some of what I consider free market principles here.” He went on: “Some of the others who might have had an advantage here have really crossed paths, crossed ways with some Republicans as they have criticized free enterprise concepts.” DeMint’s remarks could give other Tea Party leaders an excuse to back Romney, though they don’t trust him, in the name of defending capitalism.
I still think there’s a possibility the Bain attacks will resonate with some Republican voters, and maybe in South Carolina, which has a 9.9 percent unemployment rate, compared to under 6 percent in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s possible Gingrich and Perry’s attacks will open up political space for Santorum, who’s been careful not to attack capitalism as he sticks to his blue-collar platitudes and culture-war campaign. It was great to see New Hampshire voters chasten Santorum by repeatedly challenging his homophobia in public forums and giving him a fifth place finish. But his campaign told the Huffington Post he’ll spend at least $1 million on advertising in South Carolina. Maybe he’s still got a chance.
It’s a tiny one. Super PACs connected to Romney are set to spend $6 million in South Carolina and Florida in the next three weeks. Meanwhile, as every non-Romney candidate vows to head to South Carolina, they split the conservative vote and increase the chances that Romney gets the victory. Perry claimed he’s soldiering on. So did Jon Huntsman, despite a third-place showing that wasn’t enough to make him a serious candidate, since he bet everything on New Hampshire. “Third place is a ticket to ride, ladies and gentlemen,” Huntsman told the crowd, but nobody believes that. Late Tuesday night, Huntsman’s father and financier reportedly hadn’t decided whether to keep bankrolling his son’s bid. (And people mock Romney for his wealth.)
If it weren’t for Ron Paul’s foreign policy views, we might be talking about whether conservatives could coalesce around his candidacy. He underperformed expectations in Iowa but he came in a strong second Tuesday night. As much as I loathe his domestic politics, I enjoyed hearing the crowd chanting “Bring them home” when he promised to get troops out of Afghanistan. Paul will stay in the race and, given his caucus strategy, he could rack up delegates. I don’t know where that will take him – is he dreaming of Vice President Rand Paul? – but it’s great to think about the Ron Paul crowd heckling Mitt Romney when he doubles down on his hawkish, expansionist foreign policy promises in Tampa.
Romney’s heading into a scorched-earth South Carolina primary, but he’s got to be feeling pretty good about his first two outings. In New Hampshire, he won the ultra-rich, of course, but he also got Tea Party members and evangelicals, according to exit polls. He gave a much better victory speech than he did a week ago, because this time he used his teleprompter. He hit not only Obama but his Republican rivals for practicing “the bitter politics of envy,” which has more zing than the standard GOP class warfare line.
The private equity mogul can’t understand that criticism of his Bain career — “restructuring” companies, cutting their workforce and forcing almost a quarter into bankruptcy — isn’t about jealousy, but justice. People are starting to understand that finance capitalism works for the top 1 percent, but not the rest of us. So while Gingrich’s attacks aren’t likely to help his candidacy, they’re a boost to the man he presumably wants to defeat more than Romney. President Obama has to look forward to running against a guy his GOP rivals called a looter and a vulture capitalist. The fact that all of those rivals are fighting on after New Hampshire helps Romney win the nomination, but it could also help the Democrats hold the White House.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
More Related Stories
- If Alex Pareene was a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- UK officials: Radical Islam behind London attack
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- 9-year-old slams Rahm over Chicago schools
- Stockholm riots rage for third day
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodi Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11