Go look at the headline at National Journal. It has, it seems, come to this.

Card-carrying Romney critic Philip Klein, who’s spent years writing posts dumping on RomneyCare, can’t believe he’s being forced to defend you-know-who:

It’s nothing short of disgraceful behavior from Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and Texas Gov. Rick Perry…

Romney’s rivals are engaging in the type of Marxist rhetoric that we’re used to hearing from Occupy Wall Street protesters, promoting an imaginary view of capitalism that’s exists only in Hollywood.

In reality, capitalism is the most moral economic system ever conceived of, because it’s the only one that’s consistent with personal freedom. Investors such as Romney pump money into businesses, and often have to cut jobs in an attempt to make them more efficient and profitable. And sometimes they fail despite their best efforts. But by cutting their losses, they have more money to invest in other businesses, and hopefully the gains outweigh the losses. In Romney’s case, he was tremendously successful overall, helping to grow businesses such as Domino’s and Staples that now employ tens of thousands of workers. In the process, he produced huge returns for his investors, who in turn had more money to invest elsewhere. However tragic the displacement of some workers was, on a net basis, companies like Bain help fuel economic growth. And there’s also no reason to believe that jobs that were lost – in steel investments, for instance – would have survived anyway. None of his rivals are accusing Romney of doing anything illegal or fraudulent in his business dealings, so it’s purely an attack on capitalism. It’s sad to see them go this route.

The money quote from Gingrich: “If somebody comes in, takes all the money out of your company and then leaves you bankrupt while they go off with millions, that’s not traditional capitalism.” Is that what Bain did — took all the money out of a company and then left it to die? According to the Journal, just 22 percent of the businesses acquired by Bain during Romney’s tenure ended up filing for bankruptcy afterwards. Another eight percent failed, but failed so badly that Bain lost its entire investment. And yet, if you believe Perry, the reason any of these businesses were shut down “was so that Bain Capital could profit and he could get richer.” Question for him and Gingrich: What rate of success in turning around acquisitions would exempt a private equity firm from charges of “looting,” as Newt puts it? 90 percent? 99? A full 100?

More from Avik Roy, another RomneyCare critic, who describes this as “Romney Derangement Syndrome”:

Frequently, these turnarounds initially involve layoffs — when they work, the layoffs act as a kind of pruning that allows a tree to grow again. When the turnarounds fail, however, the layoffs don’t work, and the company goes bankrupt. More often than not, these bankruptcies would have happened anyway: In the case of Bain’s investments in the steel industry, for example, cheap steel imports from abroad made it difficult for most American firms to survive…

#page#In some cases Bain may have made mistakes in its turnaround efforts, or misjudged an original business opportunity. That’s, again, what happens in the private sector. Success is not guaranteed. On the other hand, it’s fair to say that private-equity firms such as Bain Capital were responsible for many of the productivity gains, and the retreat of sclerotic labor unions, that the American economy generated in the 1990s. Rest assured that Bain would have not generated those spectacular returns for its investors, nor attracted those investors in the first place, if the majority of its investments failed…

It’s been discouraging to read that many conservatives see Romney’s record at Bain Capital as a liability. For the truth is the opposite: Romney is a candidate uniquely suited to defending the role of free enterprise in the American economy. When liberal politicians and journalists argue that layoffs are cruel, and that capitalism is unfair, Mitt Romney can speak to how dealing frontally with a business’s problems can lead to better and more numerous jobs over the long term. He can speak not merely in abstract philosophical terms, but using the real-world examples from his successes and his failures.

Go look at the table James Pethokoukis posted tracking “creative destruction” of jobs over the 20th century. The one fair point Gingrich and Perry supporters have in defending their guys is that Romney seemed to get off awfully easy back in September when he started tearing Perry down over his Social Security rhetoric. That attack is as offensive as this one, really: At a moment when conservatives are desperate for the country to think boldly about entitlement reform, there was good ol’ Mitt hammering Perry for being too bold. Could be that the Romney critics are right and that Mitt simply gets a pass for his brass-knuckles attacks because he’s — allegedly — the most electable candidate, but I think there’s more to it. Pandering to Republicans on entitlements is semi-accepted on the right because (a) like it or not, a lot of self-described conservative voters are fans of Social Security and Medicare and (b) the GOP itself used Mediscare arguments to great effect in the 2010 midterm elections in campaigning against ObamaCare. The attacks on Romney’s “creative destruction” in the private sector are unusual for a Republican campaign, though, and sit badly after months of screeching from OWSers about “the one percent.” (The boss emeritus, in fact, describes Gingrich and Perry as having “gone Occupier.”) If the right stands for anything, it’s capitalism — even more so than entitlement reform, strong defense, or “values.” Quoth the Club for Growth, “Newt Gingrich’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital are disgusting… Because of the efforts of Bain Capital, major companies like Staples, Domino’s Pizza, and the Sports Authority now employ thousands of people and have created billions in wealth in the private economy. Attacking Governor Romney for participating in free-market capitalism is just beyond the pale for any purported ‘Reagan Conservative.'”

Fairly or not, I think Gingrich and Perry are also paying a price today because their timing stinks of desperation. If Romney’s buyout record troubled them, they should have clubbed him with it from the beginning. Turning to it in the eleventh hour, after he’s won Iowa and is on the brink of putting them on ice in New Hampshire, makes it look like something they’ve resorted to not because they believe it but because it might work. And yeah, I know — politics ain’t beanbag, but if you’re going to hit a guy hard, can you at least not betray everything you supposedly believe about free markets in doing so? If Newt really does believe what he’s saying, why did he take it back after he attacked Romney on Bain the first time? Exit quotation from Rick Santorum, when asked to criticize Romney on Bain: “I’m not making it a liability. I believe in the private sector.”

Update: Here’s the best question of all: If you want to hit Romney for what happened at Bain, why not focus on this?