By A.B. Stoddard - 05/23/12 09:21 PM EDT
Anyone who is already tired of hearing about Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital is welcome to leave the country and return after the November election. For those of us remaining here, President Obama has issued an unambiguous warning: There will be no escape. “This is not a distraction,” Obama said Monday of his campaign ads attacking Romney’s years at Bain. “This is what this campaign is going to be about.”
In closing the NATO summit in Chicago and discussing an end to the war in Afghanistan and the eurozone crisis earlier this week, Obama relished the chance to push back against criticism of his campaign’s ads featuring workers devastated when their companies were taken over by Bain Capital, and to assert that Romney’s private-equity prowess has hardly prepared him to rescue the economy.
Or in other words, “You’re so Bain, you probably think this economy is about you.” No, not at all, said Obama. “If your main argument for how to grow the economy is, ‘I knew how to make a lot of money for investors,’ then you are missing what this job is about,” he added. If that wasn’t perfectly clear to everyone, Vice President Biden said the following day of Romney’s private-equity experience, “[T]hat no more qualifies you to be president than being a plumber!”
Unfortunately, six years into running for president, Romney hasn’t located a strong answer to attacks against his years at Bain, though they have been used against him in several campaigns in the past. His new friends and supporters — Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — are featured in Obama’s new ad, which employs old footage from the GOP primary, bashing Romney’s tenure at Bain. It won’t be the last time. Just days ago, while criticizing Obama’s attack against Romney on CNN, Gingrich couldn’t help but stick it to Romney one more time. “A discussion about a particular company or a particular decision is not an attack on the free enterprise system,” Gingrich said. President Obama would certainly agree.
As he runs away from an ailing economy, his stimulus program and his healthcare reform law, Obama’s goal is to diminish Romney’s businessman profile, which polling shows is the former Massachusetts governor’s greatest political asset. Yet as Obama courts private-equity donors and relies upon the kindnesses of campaign bundlers like Jonathan Lavine, a Bain Capital executive, he is struggling to perfect his political needle-threading — much to the dismay of Democrats like Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, who last weekend openly questioned the wisdom of criticizing private equity. Other top Democrats have expressed similar reservations publicly and privately; many say they fear Obama’s ads and that his rhetoric could alienate a large portion of the donor population from the party for a generation. Indeed, at $3.5 million, Obama raised twice as much as John McCain from donors in private equity in the 2008 cycle, yet Romney is handily outpacing him now among the same contributors.
The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 54 percent of respondents don’t consider Romney’s Bain experience significant either way. But Team Obama has calculated the obvious risk and decided that, in an election that could be decided in the Midwest, the damage the Bain attack could do to undermine Romney in the Rust Belt is a rich reward that is surely worth the risk.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.