In a potentially game-changing shift, Republican presidential candidates, including former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have tapped into the populist anger of the 99 percent, tearing into former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s tenure at the financial firm Bain Capital, which made billions while bankrupting a quarter of the companies it invested in.
Gingrich said Romney’s firm consisted of “rich people figuring out clever, legal ways to loot out a company;” Huntsman claimed Romney liked “firing people;” Perry said that Romney must’ve been worried that he would “run out of pink slips” to give people.
The attempt by these candidates to tap into the sentiments of Americans — many of whom are registered Republicans — who have been ripped off and mistreated by corporate executives like Romney is spawning a backlash from the Republican establishment. A number of prominent right wing individuals and groups rushed to defend Romney’s behavior at Bain Capital, saying that being critical of corporate greed is tantamount to betraying conservative values and being anti-capitalism. Here’s a roundup of just some of this conservative backlash:
— The Club for Growth: The Club for Growth called Gingrich’s critique of Bain “disgusting,” and said that “attacking Governor Romney for participating in free-market capitalism is just beyond the pale for any purported ‘Reagan conservative.’” [1/10]
— Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum: Santorum accused those criticizing Bain of playing by the Democratic Party’s playbook: “[I] just don’t think as a conservative and someone who believes in business that we should be out there playing the games that the Democrats play, saying somehow capitalism is bad.” [1/9]
— The National Review: The National Review’s Avik Roy said the attacks on Bain were indicative of “Romney Derangement Syndrome,” and defended the practices of his company. [1/9]
— The American Spectator: The Spectator took issue with Gingrich examining the effects of Romney’s vulture capitalism: “Gingrich’s words during Saturday morning’s debate that ‘I think it’s a legitimate part of the debate to say OK on balance are people better off by this particular style of investment?’ show less an attack on Romney than attack on capitalism itself, something that should be anathema to a self-described ‘Reagan conservative.’” [1/10]
— New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu: Sununu said the critique of Bain is part of an “attack” on “free-enterprise.” “Those attacks… are on the investment community of this country,” said the New Hampshire governor. [1/10]
— The American Enterprise Institute (AEI): AEI’s James Pethokoukis wrote that firms “like Bain disrupt the status quo for the betterment of most though not all.” [1/10]
— Radio Host Glenn Beck: Beck said that Bain is the “new Halliburton” — the “company that has done nothing wrong yet is completely vilified merely for being a company that attempts to earn a profit.” [1/10]
RedState’s Erick Erickson is one high-profile Republican who is not rushing to attack Bain’s critics — but not because he views them as correct. “The typical voter does not understand private equity, leveraged balance sheets, etc. They see it as some mystical black magic abused by greedy people on Wall Street,” he explains. “There are, frankly, a lot of Republican primary voters who view it that way too.” Erickson conceded that many Republicans are just as distrustful of the financial sector as the rest of America is a powerful concession — it shows that the right-wing blogger and conservative strategist understands that economic populism can appeal even to some of the nation’s most conservative voters.
While appearing on Fox News last night, public relations guru and GOP consultant Frank Luntz said that the antidote to the economic concerns of voters isn’t necessarily to change Republican policy solutions but simply change their political language: “Conservatives should not be defending capitalism. They should be defending economic freedom.”
Last night, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) said he’s a “little concerned about the few Republicans who have criticized some of what I consider free market principles here.”
Today, the Washington Examiner editorializes that Newt has given way to his “evil” side by criticizing Bain.