Bain Capital succeeded far more often than it failed in these endeavors, averaging somewhere between 50 and 80 percent annual returns from 1984 to 1999. These returns not only made Mitt Romney and his colleagues wealthy, but also rewarded Bain Capital’s investors, which included the endowments of prominent universities and foundations, such as Yale and Stanford, and also well-known entrepreneurs such as Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems and Michael Dell of Dell Computers.

#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…

#ad#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.

Romney’s health-care legacy will, and should, continue to be a matter of controversy among Republican voters. However, should Romney end up as the nominee, he will provide conservatives with a singular opportunity: a chance to forthrightly and skillfully extol the Duane Reade economy over the Solyndra economy. If conservatives truly believe in free enterprise, it is an opportunity they should relish.