Rob Horowitz: Romney Stung By Bain Attack
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
The Obama campaign’s all-out assault on Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital is paying big dividends because it takes the presumptive Republican nominee’s chief calling card --his business experience -- and defines this experience in highly negative terms.
Even conservatives such as George Will acknowledge that the Obama campaign is succeeding in its no-holds-barred efforts to tie Romney’s Bain career and resulting wealth to ruthlessly outsourcing American jobs and using off-shore tax havens.
Romney’s refusal to release more than one or two years of tax returns has played into the Obama campaign’s hands because it looks as if he is hiding something. Increasing discomfort by fellow Republicans in Romney’s position was evident over the weekend as a number of Republican governors and the conservative commentator William Kristol urged him to immediately release more years of his returns.
Finally recognizing that they have a big problem, the Romney campaign put Romney on the air Friday for a series of damage control interviews in which he called on the Obama campaign to apologize for what he characterized as“ false and misleading attacks.” Romney insisted that he was not actively involved in Bain after 1999--- when the main outsourcing examples used by the Obama campaign took place. While it is true that in 1999 he took on the assignment of running the Winter Olympics and was spending the bulk of his time in Utah, he was still listed as Bain’s Chair and CEO between 1999 and 2003 during the period of time in which the outsourcing decisions were made. Further, the Boston Globe, in a story co-authored by former Providence Journal reporter Christopher Rowland, pointed out that in testimony submitted by Romney in response to questions raised about his Massachusetts residency Romney claimed to have come back for Board meetings of Bain-affiliated companies and to have stayed involved in his Massachusetts business interests.
No matter how active a role Romney played in these decisions to ship American jobs overseas, what is not in dispute is that he profited from the decisions and that he was at least titular head of the company at the time. This is in part why the Romney campaign’s push back on this issue has so far been ineffective. Even if the Obama campaign has played fast and loose with some of the facts, the general arc of their argument rings true.
Further, Romney’s business success is more open to political attack because it is in the not easily understood world of finance—a world that has been somewhat discredited by the recent financial crisis that triggered the Great Recession. Voters intuitively understand how experience in building a business from the ground up and managing thousands of employees can translate into effective governance. That is what lies behind the appeal of a Michael Bloomberg or a Ross Perot. How the business skills and experience of Mitt Romney translates to the Presidency is less evident and requires the candidate to fill in the blanks.
So far, Romney has simply asserted that his business experience means he knows more about how the economy works than Barack Obama. In order to take back the initiative on what may be a make-or-break issue for the Romney candidacy, he needs to do much more. Romney must specifically explain how his experience at Bain informs his views of the economy and outline a bold vision for creating jobs and restoring robust economic growth.
Unless he quickly fills in the blanks for voters, the Obama campaign will be all too happy to continue to do the job for him.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.
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