“There is an informal set of rules governing attacks in the presidential primary campaigns, so as to keep things within the healthy, winnowing spirit of Darwinian competition, and away from dangerous subversion of the eventual nominee. One guideline is that attacks from the flanks are more allowable than attacks from the center. (‘Mitt Romney is not a true conservative’ is fine, because it won’t be the Democrats’ theme this fall; ‘Mitt Romney will cut Medicare’ is another story.) Another, more informal criterion is that the closer a candidate gets to wrapping up the nomination, the more gentle his opponents must be in assailing him.

“By these standards, Newt Gingrich’s new message assailing Mitt Romney is a remarkable breach of protocol.”

“‘There is a huge difference between free-market capitalism that goes out and creates companies, grows jobs, and takes an appropriate profit, which can be quite large — I mean, Bill Gates has done fine,’ Gingrich said. ‘It even makes sense to have companies that go out and re-organize inefficient companies and end up making very substantial profits out of doing it…What you have to question is if somebody went out and looted a company, leaving behind a shell.’ If the Reuters report is accurate, Gingrich said, ‘Bain Capital actually makes a huge amount of money while cratering the company — I think you have to question whether that’s a very defensible form of capitalism.’

“‘I don’t want to pre-judge Romney,’ Gingrich said. But ‘you can’t have capitalism on the way up and socialism on the way down. You can’t have somebody who says, I’m so smart, I want a huge upside, and by the way I’m so smart you’re going to get ripped off while I get a huge upside.’

“‘If these things all turn out to be relatively valid,’ Gingrich continued, referring to the case made against Romney in the new video, ‘at some point in the near future, he’s going to have to do a press conference just on Bain…I think he has to come in at some point and say these were companies we were involved in, this is the actual cash flow of these companies, and this is how it happened. Which is inevitably going to lead to questions about records that he apparently doesn’t want to release and conversations he’s not going to be able to avoid.'”

“‘It’s puzzling to see Speaker Gingrich and his supporters continue their attacks on free enterprise,’ Romney’s spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. ‘This is the type of criticism we’ve come to expect from President Obama and his left-wing allies at MoveOn.org. Unlike President Obama and Speaker Gingrich, Mitt Romney spent his career in business and knows what it will take to turn around our nation’s bad economy.'”

“The attack could prove sticky, for three reasons. First, it takes Mr. Romney’s central rationale as a candidate and turns it into a bludgeoning tool. Mr. Romney, after all, is the guy who knows all about turnarounds, which is why we’re supposed to hire him as our c.e.o. Every day he is forced to defend his business record, as opposed to his stance on abortion or gun control, is a bad day for Mitt Romney.

“Second, it casts doubt on Mr. Romney’s aura of electability. Most independent voters may not be ready to take up signs and occupy the local park, but neither are they feeling especially warmly toward Wall Street speculators and bonus-gobbling chief executives at the moment, and the Bain narrative casts Mr. Romney in exactly this light.

“And third, the Bain line of attack, more than anything else brandished against Mr. Romney to this point, might bring to the surface an instinctive concern that he’s emotively challenged. I heard some version of this a lot when I visited conservative activists and operatives in South Carolina a few weeks ago — that Mr. Romney seemed plastic and programmed, an impression that could only be exacerbated by the idea that he was laying people off and sleeping just fine.”

“While many still say the Republican party’s base is that of Wall Street and corporate America and big business, the real base of the Republican Party has become much more about working class (especially white males) in rural and small town areas of the country. This is where there is a great appeal of Sarah Palin’s and Ron Paul’s populist rhetoric attacking big government and corporate corruption and Wall Street excess. This is where a big part of the anger of the Republican Party is and of the Tea Party movement.

“If the attacks on Romney related to Bain are done effectively and consistently and wrapped in a broader argument questioning his authenticity, it could really hurt him as he leaves New Hampshire and heads to South Carolina and then Florida. Those two stops on the nominating road could be problematic on the Bain issue because of their large segments of this angry populist vote.”

“Of course, Romney and Bain weren’t in the game to create jobs. They were in it to make money for their investors and themselves. Then again, the same would go for Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Warren Buffett, and just about every other successful entrepreneur and investor you could name. But that is the miracle of free-market capitalism. The pursuit of profits by creating value benefits the rest of society through higher incomes, more jobs, and better products and services. This isn’t ‘destructive creation’—like, say, crippling U.S. fossil fuel production before ‘clean energy’ sources are viable—but ‘creative destruction’ where innovation and efficiency sweep away the old and replace it with a more productive and wealthier society…

“Romney’s career as a free-market capitalist? No apologies necessary.”

“Jack Smith, founder of Sports Authority, calls the attacks ‘a terrible slap against a brilliant guy’s record.’ Bain was one of the original investors in the sporting-goods store, and Romney served as a director on the company’s board. Smith says he would consult Romney on ‘anything and everything.’ ‘He provided guidance and direction,’ he adds.

“‘I heard [Newt] Gingrich talking about how they eliminated jobs and the money they grabbed, that’s baloney,’ Smith insists…

“Smith, meanwhile, says Romney’s still got that entrepreneurial talent. ‘If he started a business today, he would make it successful.’ And if he became president of the United States, Smith contends, he could fix the country’s business.'”

“The attack on Bain as some lumbering vampire, sucking wealth and mirth out of small towns, is exactly what Ted Kennedy’s strategist Bob Shrum used to smack Romney in his 1994 U.S. Senate race. Before the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic National Committee kept showing up at Romney rallies with people laid off from Bain-looted companies. (Let’s just use the Gingrich framework, for now.) These attacks from the left didn’t get a ton of attention because ‘Democratic Party Opposes Wealthy Republican’s Business Decisions’ isn’t a very interesting story.

“But a populist, anti-venture capital campaign that’s pitched to Republicans? That’s something else.”

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