Well, as the saying goes, “It’s all over but the shouting.” Having slogged through a primary process that felt even longer than it was, it looks like Republicans finally have a nominee to go mano-a-mano with Barack Obama come November. Around ten o’clock last night, CNN called the Maryland, D.C., and Wisconsin primaries for Romney. The Maryland, D.C., and Wisconsin wins mean Romney is now more than halfway towards winning enough delegates to clinch the Republican nomination.
Whether they’ve chosen him, settled for him, or just got stuck with him, it looks like Mitt Romney will be the GOP’s standard bearer from here on as we go into the general election.
As I wrote early on, one of the benefits (to the rest of us, anyway) of the GOP’s marathon primary race was the opportunity to hear the candidates attack one another. Not just because of nasty things they said about each other, but because they got so much right! Romney’s fellow Republicans said a lot about him. They got a lot right, too.
King of Bain
No attack on Romney was vicious or effective than Newt Gingrich’s attack on Mitt Romney’s career as a vulture capitalist, at the helm of Bain Capital. Gingrich’s 27 minute documentary, “When Mitt Romney Came To Town,” bore such close resemblance to progressive and/or Democratic messaging, that the Obama campaign could consider at least some of its TV spots done, if only Gingrich’s movie could be considered an in-kind contribution.
But, really, there was nothing kind about it. Not if you were Mitt Romney. Gingrich went a long way towards painting Romney as the GOP’s own Gordon Gekko (though in truth Romney’s merely one of a set), and even did a fair job of introducing Americans to Wall Street’s brand of Gekko capitalism — buy a company with borrowed money, pledged against assets or earnings; increase profits; sell the company.
As one of Romney’s fellow former Bain employees told the LA Times, job creation was never the point. “The primary goal of private equity is to create wealth for your investors.” Bain delivered in that regard. The Wall Street Journal reported that 22% — nearly one fourth — of the companies Bain invested in (“targeted,” in private-equity-speak) either filed for bankruptcy, reorganized, or closed their doors entirely. Four of its top ten “targets” even went bankrupt.
For workers at companies like Dade International, American Pad and Paper, GS Industries, the result was lost jobs, lost benefits, and long-term unemployment. For Bain shareholders, it meant $2.5 billion in returns on just $1.1 billion invested. For Mitt Romney, it meant amassing a personal fortune — between $190 and $250 million, according to his campaign — during his days running Bain Capital.
In one video, Gingrich not only spelled out the connection between profits on Wall Street and job losses on Main street, but shifted the focus on the national discourse in a way not seen since Occupy Wall Street. It took a Republican, to make Wall Street’s perverse notion of “creative destruction” — creating wealth for the one percent, while destroying jobs for the 99% — front page news. And if that wasn’t enough, during the New Hampshire Republican debate, Newt called Romney out for following “a Wall Street model” where “you basically take out all the money, leaving nothing for workers.”
It’s an attack so straightforward — so easy to make, because it’s so true — that even Texas governor Rick Perry managed it when he called Romney “part of Wall Street,” and explained why it applies even if Romney never had an office address on Wall Street. “I don’t think you have to actually have an address on Wall Street to be a part of Wall Street,” Perry told a Huffington Post reporter. “I don’t think anybody gets confused that Bain Capital is part of that whole Wall Street structure. I don’t think that’s lost on anybody.”
Rick Perry scored another direct hit on Romney, when he said during an Iowa event. “With all due respect to my friends who are standing on the stage with me asking you for your support, they’re either Washington insiders, they’re in Congress today, or either part of or have been part of Wall Street.” Actually, Perry the “Washington Insider” criticism was directed at the all the GOP hopefuls still standing at the time. But, with Romney’s Tuesday night wins, the remaining Washington insiders still in the race — Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum — will soon be joining Perry on the list of also-rans. That could mean a sharper focus on Romney's Washington Insider status, for at least a couple of reasons.
Romney has filled his campaign with lobbyists and surrounded himself with Washington Insiders. According to a New York Times article, Romney’s campaign “includes some of the most prominent Republican lobbyists in Washington,” among his closest advisers. They’re some of his biggest donors, too. At least 294 lobbyists gave over $400,000 to Romney’s campaign through the end of 2011. As Rick Santorum’s campaign pointed out, an ABC news article from the 2002 Massachusetts governors race shows Mitt Romney bragging about his Washington connections. “I am a big believer in getting money where the money is,” Romney says. “The money is in Washington.” So it’s no surprise that Romney’s got a lot of Washington Insiders in his campaign, and on his donor list.
Mitt Romney like to cast himself as the candidate running against Washington’s entrenched insiders and their interests. In reality, Romney has brought Washington’s entrenched insiders into the center of his campaign, and their campaign contributions ensure he’ll give special attention to their interests. It’s a full-circle moment for Romney, because he’s been working for a long time at becoming one of them. Romney like referring to President Obama as a life-long politician. But, as Steve Benen pointed out, since 1994 Romney has built a career out of running for office.
He’s still at it, of course. And he’s closer than he’s ever been to landing a job in Washington, D.C.
Flip-Flopping: A Method to the Madness
Finally, there’s the lowest hanging fruit that Romney’s Republican opponents picked, and then threw at him: the flip-flops. It’s easy to rattle a number off them off, because Romney’s flipped at least once on just about every issue: contraception, health care reform, political action committees, Fannie Mae, climate change, immigration, green energy, abortion, etc.
But as Paul Waldman pointed out, Romney flip-flops like no other GOP candidate has in this race.
Mitt Romney flip-flops carefully, after a period of calculation in which he determines the most appropriate strategic positioning required to achieve his short- and long-term goals. Newt Gingrich flip-flops impulsively, taking positions that sound good at a particular moment without any apparent regard for the past or the future.
…Whenever Romney is asked to explain a flip-flop, he always has an answer, and it’s the same one he’ll give if he gets asked about it tomorrow or next month. It may not be entirely convincing, but you can tell he thought about it, worked through it with his advisors, and is offering the best explanation they could come up with. The explanations are crafted so that they account for whatever he has said in the past and what he intends to say in the future.
Romney’s flip-flops have always been a tactic employed strategically, in the service of his short term goal of winning the Republican nomination, and his long term goal of winning the presidency. So far, it’s been working. Not perfectly, but well enough. As of Tuesday night, Romney’s pretty much achieved his short term goal.
Now, it’s about the presidency.
It’s Over. It Begins.
So, it’s over. Mitt Romney will almost certainly be the Republican nominee. There are other primaries to come, sure. But the last remaining candidates who might have had a shot at beating Romney are all but done. Newt is running on fumes, with minimal staff. Santorum claims he will stay in until at least April 24th, when Pennsylvania holds its GOP primary. But beyond that, it’s over.
Mitt Romney knows it’s over. Celebrating the three victories that put him past the halfway point in the race for delegates, Romney indicated that maybe it’s time Republicans turn shift their focus to President Obama, instead of targeting one another.
President Obama knows it’s over, too. The Obama campaign has already released TV spots attacking Romney’s ties to Big Oil. The President is sharpening his criticism of the Ryan Budget, passed by the Republican majority in the House, and blasting Romney’s support of it.
As I wrote at the beginning of this series, between now and November we’ll probably see President Obama use many of the arguments Romney’s former GOP opponents inadvertently prepared for him.
I can almost hear president Obama quoting Gingrich on Romney’s “Wall Street model,” and comparing his record on job creation to Romney’s. Then he’ll probably look right into the camera and say something like this: “Americans reject that model. I don’t believe Americans are looking for a president to do for our economy what Bain did -- under Mr. Romney’s leadership -- to the companies in its portfolio, or the workers who lost their jobs, health insurance, retirement accounts, livelihoods, and perhaps even a little of their faith in the American Dream.”
I can definitely picture millions of Americans nodding in agreement with that simple truth.
And so it ends, to begin again.