Jim Clyburn: Romney and Bain "raped" companies or something

Via Accuracy in Media. Between this and Bookergate, I’m thinking we’re maybe 72 hours from Axelrod issuing an all points bulletin to Obama surrogates nationwide to stop. talking. about Bain. The latest backtrack:

The Obama campaign says a surrogate’s use of the word “raping” to describe Mitt Romney’s actions at his private-equity firm, Bain Capital, is inappropriate…

Patrick Devlin, a spokesman for Clyburn, said that the top-ranking Democrat used the word “raping” as a “synonym for rob or plunder.”

Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said in an email, “We strongly disagree with Congressman Clyburn’s choice of words- they have no place in this conversation.”

Clyburn, of course, has taken plenty of cash from private-equity rapists himself. That’s symptomatic of why Team O keeps running into messaging trouble from its allies on this subject: Democrats are so hopelessly conflicted about Wall Street that they simply can’t manage to walk in lockstep in pushing this talking point. You’ve got hardcore liberals like Clyburn grasping for rape analogies (those donations notwithstanding), centrists like Mark Warner and Ed Rendell all but defending Bain and private equity, and aspiring Democratic superstars like Cory Booker playing both sides in the knowledge that he’ll need Wall Street money and the liberal base to help fund a run for higher office later. (Booker is now the subject of a Two-Minutes Hate for having taken cash from private equity donors before.)

It’s a mess, and probably a mess that won’t accomplish much since, as BuzzFeed notes, Romney’s been facing Bain attacks for nearly 20 years and they never seem to go anywhere. This time could be different since he’s running as a managerial genius/economic turnaround artist, not a true-blue social conservative a la 2008 or the centrist answer to Ted Kennedy a la 1994, but I find it hard to believe many swing voters will disqualify Romney because some Bain acquisitions resulted in layoffs. The takeaway for the electorate from his Bain tenure isn’t how many net jobs were created; hopefully, it’s the idea that “this guy really, really understands business.” Once that baseline of the challenger’s competence is established in the public’s mind, then they can proceed to judge the incumbent on his performance. It’s a referendum election, in other words, but only if Mitt passes the threshold test of seeming capable. That shouldn’t be a problem; the question is whether, if voters get a sour impression of his Bain work, that’ll help O’s likability advantage just enough to make a difference on election day.