CONCORD, NH–Mitt Romney’s tightly controlled campaign unraveled a bit on the very eve of the New Hampshire primary when the former Massachusetts governor made his biggest error yet–and on a subject that has proved to be his Achilles heel.
Speaking in Nashua about freedom of choice in buying health care insurance, Romney said: “It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”
“I like being able to fire people.” That was the big takeaway, and although slightly out of context, the Democratic National Committee already is running ads about it.
More interestingly, Republicans are using it to attack Romney, who’s comfortably the front runner. “Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs,” said former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Other opponents took the same tack.
It’s richly ironic to see Republican candidates attack someone for being a successful capitalist, but they’re trying to differentiate between the “good” capitalism of average upstanding Americans and the “bad” capitalism of Wall Street vultures and corporate raiders, of which Romney is supposedly one.
It’s more complicated than that, of course. Romney’s record running Bain Capital, about which The Wall Street Journal did an in-depth investigation Monday, is a mixed bag.
But more importantly, it’s central to the story Romney’s telling about why he should be elected president: The business acumen he acquired in the years he ran Bain enables him to be a better steward of the economy than President Obama.
But what if the skills he developed were not in creating jobs but in rationalizing companies, selling them off and making huge profits for investors while employees were left in the lurch? That would make him part of the problem, not the solution, and voters would be leery of turning the keys over to him.
That’s where gaffes like this come in–as part of a counter-narrative that opponents could use in debates and attack ads, which have started already. Some of Romney’s earlier comments, like his offer to bet Texas Gov. Rick Perry $10,000, also feed in to this counter-narrative of Romney as a cold-hearted, privileged individual out of touch with the struggles of average families in this country.
His efforts to paint himself as someone who worried about getting a pink slip, as he did at a rally I saw in New Hampshire Sunday, ring hollow.
Things like this have a way of coming back to haunt a candidate. Even if Romney wins the nomination, as seems likely, he’ll be trying to explain these comments for months to come.