Seeking to blunt Mitt Romney’s momentum ahead of Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, challengers Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry (before he dropped out) criticized Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, prompting a backlash from some conservatives elites who accused the candidates of espousing anti-capitalism rhetoric.
The pro-Wall Street lobby group Club for Growth called Gingrich’s attacks on Bain “disgusting” while the Wall Street Journal said the former speaker was taking “the Obama line.” CNBC host and former Reagan official Larry Kudlow, who was once bullish on Gingrich, said this weekend, “Newt Gingrich is not a free-market capitalist.” Rush Limbaugh torched Gingrich, saying he was “singing from the same playbook” as Occupy Wall Street.
But Gingrich’s upset victory in South Carolina seems to show that potency of arguments that highlight the unfairness and inequality of our economic system. As Ruy Texeira writes, conservatives “should realize they’re attacking the opinions of most Americans who do, in fact, believe the system unfairly favors the wealthy”:
On CNN’s State of the Union yesterday, Gingrich took a bit of victory lap on the Bain attacks, acknowledging that they helped him win South Carolina because, he argued, they show voters where Romney is vulnerable against President Obama. Watch it:
Indeed, after several weeks dominated by the controversy over Bain and Romney’s tax returns, the former governor risks losing his frontrunner status. Romney is down by double digits in Florida and is barely hanging onto a one point lead nationally, according to Gallup. For instance, one self-described “scorned woman” in South Carolina told TPM that she voted for Gingrich, even as lurid new revelations about his second wife were emerging, because of Romney’s waffling on his tax returns.
It’s worth remembering that in its early days, the Tea Party was nearly as anti-Wall Street as it was anti-government, galvanized by the Wall Street bailout. Much of that resentment likely remains, despite the best efforts of conservative elites to redirect that anger toward the government in order to white wash the distasteful record of companies like Bain.