Thanks to Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, Bain Capital is all over the news this week, prompting an upset MItt Romney to accuse his rivals of turning to “the bitter politics of envy” in order to halt his momentum. But is it possible the latest round of attacks will actually work to Romney’s advantage in the general election?
Some pundits have thrown out the idea that because the Bain story is coming up sooner than expected, it will be that tougher for Democrats to go on the offensive later as per their original plan.
“[If] Romney wins the nomination, this early fuss might have inoculated him against the Scrooge gambit,” TIME columnist Joe Klein wrote.”The public may feel Bain is same old, same old by October.”
Don’t buy it, Democrats say. Even while they acknowledge that they planned to roll out the Bain angle later for a reason, they find it pretty hard to contain their grins overall.
“I would have preferred to wait, yes, to keep the bottle of whup-ass fresher,” one Obama campaign strategist told TPM. “At the same time — and this is important to note — having the Republicans eat their own actually makes the Bain story more potent than we ever could because it instantly validates it as a line of attack and falls on independent ears as a matter of legitimate debate, not as a partisan line of attack.”
And when the real Bain attack comes, it will be anything but old news to the voters it needs to reach. After all, it’s hardcore Republicans who are paying the closest attention to the GOP campaign and its Bain moment right now, and they’re not voting for President Obama anytime soon.
“This isn’t a primary attack in the first place — it’s why we haven’t put any resources behind Romney as a corporate buyout specialist at this stage — it’s a general election issue for independent and swing voters in places like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana,” a senior Democratic strategist told TPM. “We were shocked that his rivals went there but nonetheless pleased because now the charges about his status as a corporate raider enjoy the lustre of bipartisan ship.”
As the above quote hints, it’s worth noting that the Gingrich and Perry war on Bain is a far cry from what the actual general election attacks will look like. The current fight is being waged almost entirely via public statements from two resource-strapped politicians, neither of whom has a particularly impressive supply of surrogates willing to amplify their message. And while Democrats have fanned the flames from the sidelines somewhat with press events and web videos, they’ve yet to spend a single dollar on anti-Bain TV ads themselves.
That won’t be the case as the calendar ticks towards November. Once Democrats decide its time to make their ultimate Bain push, they’ll have the resources to flood the zone with TV spots, direct mail (likely referencing Bain layoffs in targeted swing states), and a small army of Democratic lawmakers and operatives reinforcing the story 24/7 on cable news. Think 2004, when the entire GOP apparatus (including, awkwardly, Mitt Romney) worked in unison to drive home the John Kerry “flip flopper” meme.
In addition, it’s not at all clear how long the current Bain blowup will last. Already there are signs that Romney’s foes might put the “corporate raider” genie back into the bottle as quickly as it emerged. Even Newt Gingrich conceded on Wednesday he may be giving ammunition to the other side.
“Obama just makes it impossible to talk rationally in that area because he is so deeply into class warfare that automatically you get an echo effect,” Gingrich told a South Carolina voter concerned that Newt’s attacks were legitimizing diatribes against free enterprise, according to Politico. “I agree with you entirely.”
If Gingrich tones things down and Romney wraps up the race by the end of the month, the Bain story could go back into stasis, still plenty fresh for the general. And when it does emerge, the Republican field’s Bain tantrum — even if it was just a week long — will provide a feature film’s worth of footage to use against Romney.
“Newt loves to attend film premieres,” Democratic consultant Matt Ortega told TPM. “Democrats are going to make him a star this fall.”
Brian Beutler contributed to this post.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.