Romney hits Obama for wanting to 'put free enterprise on trial'

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Mitt Romney attacked his GOP rivals and President Obama in a New Hampshire victory speech that accused his opponents in both parties of joining forces against him.

The GOP presidential front-runner, who cruised to an easy victory in the nation’s first primary, said Obama wants “to put free enterprise on trial, and in the last few days we’ve seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him.”

Romney suffered a tough Monday in New Hampshire as Democrats and Republicans attacked his years at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he once led. Other GOP candidates and Obama’s campaign team attacked Romney’s years at Bain, portraying him as a ruthless corporate raider who cut jobs from companies Bain purchased and then made over.

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As some in the crowd booed at the reference to GOP attacks on capitalism, Romney said it was a mistake for Republicans to take up this line of argument.

“The country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy,” Romney said. “We have to offer an alternative vision. I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we're lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success.”

Romney’s speech hints at the arguments he is likely to make in a general election battle with Obama and in subsequent primaries against Republicans.

Romney was widely expected to win in New Hampshire but stumbled Monday when, in talking about Obama’s healthcare law, he said, “I like being able to fire people who provide me services.”

The comment is likely to turn up again and again in 2012 as the campaign moves forward, but Romney’s comments in his victory speech seemed aimed at containing the damage and even turning the tables on Obama.

Romney offered some of his toughest criticism of Obama yet in the speech.

“He wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society,” Romney said of Obama. “We want to ensure that we remain a free and prosperous land of opportunity.

“He promised to bring people together. He promised to change the broken system in Washington. He promised to improve our nation,” Romney said. “Those were the days of lofty promises made by a hopeful candidate. … The last three years have held a lot of change, but they haven’t offered much hope.”

Romney’s speech was an improvement over his effort last week after a narrow victory in Iowa’s caucuses. That address was an impassive version of his stump speech, but on Tuesday Romney exuded vigor and self-assurance as he addressed a room packed full of his most active supporters.

“What defines us as Americans is our unwavering conviction that we know it must be better,” Romney said, flanked by his wife, Ann, and his sons — all five in crisp, white shirts. “That conviction guides our campaign. It has rallied millions of Americans in every corner of this country to our cause.”