Are GOP attacks against Romney helping Obama?

Republican presidential hopeful former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talks about his plan for creating jobs and improving the economy during a speech Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011, in Las Vegas, at McCandless International Trucks.
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
Republican presidential hopeful former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talks about his plan for creating jobs and improving the economy during a speech Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011, in Las Vegas, at McCandless International Trucks.
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

After days of taking hits from his Republican rivals for his record as a business leader at Bain Capital, the Romney campaign is finally hitting back, charging in a new adthat his opponents are "embarrassing themselves by taking the Obama line."

In recent days, several conservatives have made it clear that they agree: Many have argued that by attacking Romney's record as head of the investment firm, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have turned their backs on Republican principles. Perry, for instance, has called Romney a "vulture capitalist. Others say that Romney's record of job creation at Bain is fair game for his GOP rivals.

To be sure, even Romney has said on the campaign trail that the Republican candidates should be able to withstand primary attacks if they plan on running a successful general election campaign. Conservatives are concerned, however, that this latest line of attack only serves to handicap the GOP ahead of the general election by validating a Democratic argument against unscrupulous business practices. And as Romney's chances of clinching the GOP nomination grow, President Obama's re-election team and his allies are ready to pounce.

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"These are fabricated attacks from two very desperate and bitter men who know they can't win but are putting themselves and vengeance above the GOP," said Trey Hardin, a Republican strategist and senior vice president at the communications firm VOX Global. "Undoubtedly the Obama team, in lieu of currently not having any campaign strategy at all, are licking their chops."

Speaking to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Thursday, Sen. Jim DeMint said, "To have a few Republicans in this race beginning to talk about how bad it is to fire people... it really gives the Democrats a lot of fodder."

For months, President Obama's re-election team and the Democratic party have acted on the presumption that Romney will be the GOP nominee. Today, the Obama campaign released a four-page memo focusing on Romney's business record. The memo slams Romney as a "corporate raider," borrowing the slur used in a series of ads sponsored by a pro-Gingrich super PAC.

The super PAC ads, cut from a 28-minute web video called "King of Bain," hit the South Carolina airwaves on Thursday and call Bain Capital "more ruthless than Wall Street."

The Obama campaign memo, penned by Stephanie Cutter, mirrors that argument. "With the devastation he left in his wake, Romney's business record doesn't reflect the virtues of free enterprise so much as the worst exploitation of it," Cutter wrote.

The memo specifically focuses on Bain's record in South Carolina, where the third Republican nominating contest takes place on January 21.

"Voters deserve straight answers about [Romney's] record, so they can know how his perspective would influence his decisions and actions if he were President of the United States," Cutter wrote. "For instance, voters in South Carolina deserve to know about the millions Romney and his partners made off closing down the 114,000-square-foot Holson Burnes factory in Gaffney... Just four years after the factory opened, Bain fired 150 workers and shipped some of the operation overseas."

On MSNBC Friday morning, Richard Trumka, president of the labor union organization AFL-CIO -- a traditional Democratic ally -- said he agrees with that line of attack.

"I heard [MSNBC host Joe Scarborough] say it's going to backfire because of the attack on free enterprise. The question is what kind of free enterprise, and who does that free enterprise benefit?" Trumka said. "If that kind of free enterprise only benefits the top percent, you're going to see more of what you saw on the street."

To serve as a contrast to the companies restructured by Bain, Trumka pointed to President Obama's intervention in General Motors. "The president saved the car industry," he said.

Romney's defenders have pointed to the GM intervention as an example of what they say is the Democrats' flawed approach to free enterprise.

In a newsletter to his supporters Thursday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee defended Romney, chiding other Republicans embracing a "leftwing argument against capitalism."

Huckabee wrote that Bain engaged in "creative destruction," which means downsizing a company in order to save the company in the long run.

"The other alternative, the Obama way, is to use vast amounts of taxpayer money to prop up companies that are failing in the marketplace," Huckabee continued. "Sometimes, with a big enough cash transfusion, they survive, like GM. Other times, all the money in the world can't stop them from going belly-up and losing all their jobs, like Solyndra."

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Even Romney's other rivals have resisted casting Romney as a "corporate raider." On the campaign trail in Rock Hill, South Carolina Friday, former Sen. Rick Santorumchastised Gingrich, saying "conservative alternatives [to Romney] don't go out and attack the capitalist system as [Gingrich] has done."

On Wednesday, Gingrich seemed to suggest his attacks have been influenced by the way President Obama frames economic issues. Still, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told reporters later that the campaign is "absolutely not" having second thoughts about the Romney attacks.

"We will continue to examine what decisions he made at Bain, why he made those decisions, what was motivating him to make those decisions and the American people can decide whether or not they want an investment-banker-in-chief as their commander-in-chief," he said.

On Friday, the Gingrich campaign repudiated alleged inaccuracies put forward by the pro-Gingrich super PAC. Gingrich, however, maintained that Romney's record at Bain deserves scruinty, saying, "The American people have a right to know the facts about the records of the men and women who are asking them for their vote."

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- whose husband has endorsed Gingrich -- argued on Thursday that the attacks are reasonable, and that the GOP candidates "need to vet one another" before a nominee goes up against Mr. Obama.

Certainly, it's nothing new for primary opponents to attack each other. In fact, in the 2008 campaign, when John McCain was competing against Romney for the GOP nomination, McCain argued, "As head of his investment company [Romney] presided over the acquisition of companies that laid off thousands of workers." (McCain in this election cycle has endorsed Romney.)

Still, Hardin argues that the attacks launched by Perry and Gingrich smell of desperation particularly since the candidates switched from casting Romney as a moderate on issues like health care to casting him as a ruthless corporate raider.

"All is fair in love and politics - as long as it is true - but, if these are valid and relevant talking points, then why didn't we hear them in Iowa and New Hampshire?" Hardin asked. "Gingrich and Perry are not trying to reinvigorate their campaigns - they are choosing to commit political suicide with a bang because they both know their political careers are over in a matter of days."