How exactly has Mitt Romney managed to attract a polling surge in the middle of the attacks from Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry over his Bain Capital days?  According to a new Rasmussen poll, it’s because Republicans appear to be ready for a downsizing artist in the White House.  And Republicans don’t appear to be alone, either:

Voters are closely divided over whether Mitt Romney’s business career is a plus or a minus, but most Republicans see it as a plus. Additionally, a plurality of all voters think he would do a better job than President Obama dealing with the economy.

The Republican presidential front-runner has come under increasing attack from some GOP rivals for his work at Bain Capital, a major investment firm, and 34% of Likely U.S. Voters now think Romney’s track record in business is primarily a reason to vote against him. However, slightly more (39%) feel that business record is primarily a reason to vote for him, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are undecided.

As Saturday’s critical South Carolina Primary approaches, it appears the criticism of Romney by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry, in particular, is not resonating with Republican voters nationally. Fifty-five percent (55%) of those voters believe Romney’s record in business is primarily a reason to vote for him versus only 20% who see it as a reason to vote against him.

Forty-eight percent (48%) of all voters think Romney would do a better job than Obama managing the economy. Thirty-nine percent (39%) believe the president would do a better job, and 13% more are not sure.

That low number for Obama is a huge problem, especially since it comes in the middle of the Republican food fight.  The economy will be the biggest issue of the election, and Obama can’t get to 40% on it against a mixed field in the GOP.  Imagine where his numbers will be once the GOP unites behind a single candidate.  On the question of which candidate would do better with the economy, a majority of independents give the edge to Romney by a wide margin, 52/30.

The internals have even worse news for Obama, especially if his team takes the Bain bait.  Pushing the fact that Romney has extensive business experience is a big plus among Republicans, as Rasmussen’s summary notes, but it’s also a 15-point plus among independents (42/27).  A majority of Democrats go the other way, but not as strongly as Obama would need at 19/56, with 25% unsure, especially since Republican approval would almost assuredly go through the roof if Romney wins the nomination.  The older voters tend to be, the more positively it is viewed as well — and even among the youngest two demos, opposition doesn’t rise above 38%.  Interestingly, the lowest income demo has a plurality favoring that experience for Romney (40/33); only the $20-40K demo opposes it.  Even the government-employee demographic favors it by double digits, 38/27.

Small wonder that Mark Thiessen tells Romney that he should thank Newt Gingrich for launching this self-defeating attack:

When they meet in the green room before Monday night’s debate in South Carolina, Mitt Romney should probably give Newt Gingrich a big thank you. In just a few days’ time, Gingrich has managed has to do something Romney has tried and failed to do for more than five years: rally conservatives behind Mitt Romney.

Rush Limbaugh has called Gingrich’s attacks on Romney’s record at Bain Capital “indefensible,” “sad,” “absurd,” and “the language of leftists like Michael Moore and Oliver Stone.” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola declared them “disgusting” and called on Gingrich to “apologize to Governor Romney.”  The Wall Street Journal wrote that those like Gingrich attacking Romney’s business record “are embarrassing themselves” and “taking the Obama line.”

Voters in South Carolina appear to agree. At a candidates’ forum hosted by Mike Huckabee on Saturday, Gingrich was booed lustily when he tried to defend his Bain attacks. Hilton Head resident Donald Harespoke for many when he was asked by the New York Times this weekend if he is supporting Romney and replied “I am now. What Newt did convinced me.” A new Insider Advantage poll this weekend shows Romney gaining ground with an 11-point lead. It appears the former speaker’s anti-capitalist attacks have only helped, not hurt, Romney’s campaign.

Why has Gingrich’s ploy backfired so badly? The attacks have undermined the main message of his campaign: that he is the principled conservative in the race, while Romney is a flip-flopper who will say anything to get elected. In parroting Barack Obama’s class-warfare rhetoric, Gingrich has managed to turn himself into the candidate who abandons his conservative principles to get elected — while Romney is now positioned as the principled defender of free-market capitalism. That is quite an achievement on Gingrich’s part.

It certainly is, but it might be more basic than that.  It could be, as Larry Kudlow suggests, that voters who want to reduce the size and inefficiencies of the federal government think experience in this area is a plus:

There’s a very troubled company out there called U.S. Government Inc. It’s teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. And it badly needs to be taken over and turned around. It probably even needs the services of a good private-equity firm, with plenty of experience and a reasonably good track record in downsizing, modernizing, shrinking staff and making substantial changes in management. Yes, layoffs will be a necessary part of the restructuring.

A quick look at the income statement of this troubled firm tells the story. Just in the past year (FY 2011), the firm spent $3.7 trillion, but took in only $2.2 trillion in sales revenues. Hence its deficit came to $1.5 trillion.

Just in the first three months of the new year (FY 2012), the firm’s troubles continued. Outlays for all purposes came in at $874 billion, but income was only $554 billion. So the shortfall was $320 billion. No hope of a self-imposed turnaround here. Indeed, both the senior management and the board of directors show no signs of making major changes to their business strategy.

Hope for future profits? That’s out of the question. The firms only chance of survival is a takeover. … So now the question is, will America Inc. ask this former turnaround CEO to prevent the bankruptcy of U.S. Government Inc.? Isn’t a Bainful turnaround exactly what America needs?

The effect of these attacks might just be that outcome.  If Democrats are licking their chops now over Bain, they may find themselves doing facepalms in a few months instead.