Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital is under increasing scrutiny as opponents try desperately to stop him from winning next Saturday’s GOP primary in South Carolina. Some of the anti-Romney narratives can’t stand up to the same level of scrutiny. I’ve posted some links on the "Bain way" and other factors in the Republican presidential race after the jump.
The Winning Our Future super-PAC, which supports Newt Gingrich for president, produced a 29-minute campaign advertisement called "King of Bain" to put South Carolina voters off Romney. Shorter clips from the documentary-style ad are also running on radio and television. The image of a corporate raider who enriched himself and his partners while driving American companies into the ground has the potential to be a powerful narrative against Romney. However, "King of Bain" includes many errors. Factcheck.org dismantled the film here, and the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler gave it "four Pinnochios."
Romney may have opened the door to this kind of attack with his suspect job-creation claims, but that is no excuse for this highly misleading portrayal of Romney’s years at Bain Capital. Only one of the four case studies directly involves Romney and his decision-making, while at least two are completely off point. The manipulative way the interviews appeared to have been gathered for the UniMac segment alone discredits the entire film.
Gingrich seems concerned about a potential backlash from the Bain film. Speaking to a group of supporters in South Carolina, he called on the super-PAC to pull the film or edit out any mistakes:
“I’ve said all along that these super PACs ought to have some sense of responsibility. The ad for example that Gov. Romney is running in Florida right now about me was given four ‘Pinocchios’ by the Washington Post, which means it was wrong at least four times in 30 seconds, which is not easy. I challenged the governor to speak up. He frankly has been timid and irresponsible.
“This morning we found out this new 30-minute film on Gov. Romney and Bain has some factual errors in it, from the same Washington Post fact-checkers. I want to say I am true to what I say.
“I am calling on this super PAC – I cannot coordinate with them and I cannot communicate directly, but I can speak out as a citizen as I’m talking to you — I call on them to either edit out every single mistake or to pull the entire film,” he said.
“They should not run the film if it has errors in it,” Gingrich continued. “I think we should have somebody who wants to be president ought to have the courage to stand up for the truth, and ought to be prepared to say if something is false.”
Gingrich has been pushing an anti-Bain narrative in the recent Republican debates and on the campaign trail. Some conservatives are upset that he’s pushing Democratic-style rhetoric against a successful businessman. Cam Sutton, a retired Iowa insurance executive who endorsed Gingrich for president, said this week that he called a senior Gingrich campaign staffer to complain about the Romney-bashing:
“I told him that they were going to lose me, and many others around the country, as supporters if they didn’t knock it off,” […]
Sutton endorsed Gingrich in late December, but said Thursday that he will retract his support if Gingrich doesn’t stop attacking Romney for his record at Bain Capital. […]
Sutton said he thinks Gingrich is more focused on revenge on Romney and his own personal interests than the country’s or the party’s interests.
“Our conservative movement is about free enterprise,” he said. “The capitalistic system is what made this country great and there are so many other things to bash including Barack Obama. We’re spending so much time bringing up stuff to help Democrats.”
Sutton condemned Gingrich’s negative ads that he said take Romney’s “I like to fire people” comment out of context.
The “I like to fire people” line was definitely taken out of context, which is stupid, because what Romney meant to say is even more damning. This guy could hardly be more out of touch with the average people’s real lives.
Two of Gingrich’s high-profile Iowa endorsers, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, declined this week to comment on specific attacks against Romney’s business practices. I got a kick out of Upmeyer’s newfound dislike for negative advertising:
“I don’t know enough about what is going on to comment other than it would be nice if everything could just stay pretty focused on the issues. I think we’d all be better,” said House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, who was Gingrich’s Iowa campaign chairwoman. […]
Asked if it was their expectation that he’d be positive just within Iowa’s borders, Upmeyer said she’s disappointed that negative ads hurt Gingrich in Iowa.
“For me it was my hope that people would say, ‘Yes, we want a positive message and that’s what we’re supporting,’” Upmeyer said. “Clearly people did not. It’s clear that negative ads continue to work, and while that’s disappointing, I guess it’s a reality.”
Back to the Republican presidential race: The most damning essay I’ve read about the “Bain way” is by William Cohan, who has worked for major finance firms and wrote two books about Wall Street culture. I highly recommend reading “When Romney ran Bain Capital, his word was not his bond.” Excerpt:
Yet, there is another version of the Bain way that I experienced personally during my 17 years as a deal-adviser on Wall Street: Seemingly alone among private-equity firms, Romney’s Bain Capital was a master at bait-and-switching Wall Street bankers to get its hands on the companies that provided the raw material for its financial alchemy. Other private-equity firms I worked with extensively over the years – Forstmann Little, KKR, TPG and the Carlyle Group, among them – never dared attempt the audacious strategy that Bain partners employed with great alacrity and little shame. Call it the real Bain way.[…]
By bidding high early, Bain would win a coveted spot in the later rounds of the auction, when greater information about the company for sale is shared and the number of competitors is reduced. […]
For buyers, the goal in these auctions is to be one of the few selected to inspect the company’s facilities and books on-site, in order to make a final and supposedly binding bid. Generally, the prospective buyer with the highest bid after the on-site due-diligence visit is selected by the client – in consultation with his or her banker – to negotiate a final agreement to buy the company.
This is the moment when Bain Capital would become especially crafty. In my experience – which I heard echoed often by my colleagues around Wall Street – Bain would seek to be the highest bidder at the end of the formal process in order to be the firm selected to negotiate alone with the seller, putting itself in the exclusive, competition-free zone. Then, when all other competitors had been essentially vanquished and the purchase contract was under negotiation, Bain would suddenly begin finding all sorts of warts, bruises and faults with the company being sold. Soon enough, that near-final Bain bid – the one that got the firm into its exclusive negotiating position – would begin to fall, often significantly.
Politically, that’s not as explosive as saying Romney got rich from shutting down factories and stripping their assets. But it doesn’t say a lot for the ethics of Bain managers.
The latest poll out of South Carolina shows Romney way ahead of his conservative rivals, with more than twice as much support as any other candidate. (CORRECTION: That internet-based survey shows very different results from recent live-interview polling.) Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum appear to be splitting the more conservative vote. That has to be disappointing for Santorum especially; after his strong finish in Iowa, he might have hoped to become a consensus “not Romney” in the conservative South.
Speaking of which, I enjoyed David Gibson’s article about Santorum’s unusually high level of support from evangelical Christians, who have long been suspicious of Roman Catholics. I was thinking about that in December, when Santorum started rising in the Iowa polls. I don’t recall reading any conservative Christian commentary warning against caucusing for a Catholic. In contrast, I recall seeing and hearing those sentiments periodically before Senator Sam Brownback (a convert to Catholicism) dropped out of the presidential race. I also find it interesting that converting to Catholicism didn’t prevent Gingrich from becoming a short-lived front-runner in Iowa and elsewhere.
I don’t recall hearing about Santorum’s former charity organization, Operation Good Neighbor. Carol D. Leonnig and Dan Eggen reported for the Washington Post this week,
But homeless families and troubled children were not the biggest beneficiaries of Operation Good Neighbor. Instead, the foundation spent most of its money to run itself, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for fundraising, administration and office rental paid to Santorum’s political allies.
The charity also had significant overlap with the senator’s campaigns and his work on Capitol Hill. Among the leading donors to the foundation were Pennsylvania development and finance firms that had donated to his election efforts and had interests that Santorum had supported in the Senate. […]
Before it folded in 2007, the foundation raised $2.58 million, with 39 percent of that donated directly to groups helping the needy. By industry standards, such philanthropic groups should be donating nearly twice that, from 75 to 85 percent of their funds.
This is an open thread. What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?
MONDAY UPDATE: Third place in New Hampshire and the endorsement of South Carolina’s leading newspaper weren’t enough to keep Jon Huntsman in the presidential race. Seeing no bump in the South Carolina polling and lacking funds for direct mail or campaign ads, Huntsman opted to drop out of the race. He will endorse Romney today. As of Sunday, Huntsman’s campaign page on YouTube had been purged of anti-Romney videos.
Odds are Rick Perry will be the next to go, following this Saturday’s primary.