Forget Steven Rattner, former Rep. Harold Ford Jr, or even Newark Mayor Cory Booker, all Democrats who have criticized President Obama’s campaign ads against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s tenure at private equity firm Bain Capital.
Forget the way Republicans jumped all over it, using the dissenting Democrats’ words against the president in a new ad campaign of their own.
The president is sticking to his guns.
On Tuesday, Vice-President Joe Biden said Romney’s experience at Bain “no more qualifies you to be president than being a plumber.”
The vice president, at least, was on message, echoing what President Obama said at Monday’s news conference in Chicago.
Now, I think my view of private equity is that it is set up to maximize profits. And that’s a healthy part of the free market…And I think there are folks who do good work in that area. And there are times where they identify the capacity for the economy to create new jobs or new industries, but understand that their priority is to maximize profits. And that’s not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers.
And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business expertise. He is not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He is saying, I’m a business guy and I know how to fix it, and this is his business.
And when you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.
Note the use of the word “fair”—a hallmark of the president’s campaign.
The president’s argument, though, is tricky. He’s praising the free market while at the same time saying that private equity is a bit dodgy, or at least isn’t a qualification for being president.
So, the president is implying that Romney’s experience at Bain wasn’t real capitalism but rogue capitalism and that Romney is a job killer rather than a job creator.
Ironically, the president got a warning about this from an unlikely quarter: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Appearing on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, Gingrich said he was “surprised” that the president was focusing so heavily on Bain, an approach the former Speaker said wouldn’t be “politically effective.” He continued:
We found out when we got in a fight with Mitt Romney over this that it didn’t work. People understand free enterprise. People realize that sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail, but they refuse to take a one-sided view of it.
Now, remember, when Gingrich went down this road (with millions of dollars from Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson), he actually won the South Carolina primary.
But GOP elders got nervous at this populist turn, which was uncomfortably close to an attack on capitalism itself. Romney then buried Gingrich under a huge pile of Super PAC money in Florida and beyond.
That, of course, was the Republican race, where voters reflexively reject this line of attack. President Obama is gambling that it will play with swing voters, and upon that may hinge the outcome of this election.