Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are getting a harsh reminder of what party they belong to as Republicans of all stripes demand they finally cool it with the Bain layoff talk. The message is loud and clear: having unleashed the Bain Kraken on Mitt Romney, now is the time to pull it back.
FOX News has been filled with conservative pols and pundits defending the private equity business over the last 48 hours. Rudy Giuliani, who as recently as last month was one of Gingrich’s best friends in the press, held nothing back in calling the Gingrich and Perry campaigns “ignorant and dumb” on Fox and Friends Thursday morning.
“What the hell are you doing, Newt?” the former mayor said. “I expect this from Saul Alinsky! This is what Saul Alinsky taught Barack Obama, and what you’re saying is part of the reason we’re in so much trouble right now.”
Former RNC chair Michael Steele delivered a similar message to Yahoo’s Chris Moody on Thursday.
“It sounds as if you’re attacking capitalism and the free-market system, and that’s not what we’re about,” Steele said. “We’re about supporting it and making it stronger and better so jobs can be created, sustained long-term and businesses can create the kind of investments that are going to be necessary for our economy to grow.’
The pushback from Republicans horrified over what they see as an attack on free enterprise is starting to affect the campaigns internally as well. This week, Perry lost a prominent South Carolina supporter, investor Barry Wynn, over his characterization of Bain as a company of “vultures.” Even worse, he’s switching his allegiance to Romney.
“I’ve been fighting for this cause most of my life,” Wynn told the Washington Post of his decision. “It’s like fingernails on the chalkboard. It just kind of irritated you to hear those kind of attacks.”
Gingrich is feeling the pressure as well and may be slowly backing down from his anti-Bain peak. Early on Wednesday in response to a question from TPM he bullishly declared that he was “prepared to have people irritated on the right and the left.” However, later that day he appeared to agree with one voter that his message was being hijacked by Democrats to create an “echo effect” of class warfare. And on Thursday, even as he defended his attacks to FOX News, he made clear that his Bain criticism is “not the centerpiece of my campaign.”
While Gingrich doesn’t appear to be backing down yet, some of the other GOP candidates are starting to rally to Romney’s defense. Jon Huntsman recently warned his rivals to lay off the “corporate raider” talk. Rick Santorum is also keeping out of it. “I’m not making it a liability,” he told reporters this week. “I believe in the private sector.”
Perry and Gingrich are going to need some pretty thick skin if they want to continue this line much longer. Already Democrats are planning their own Bain attacks and they’re making no secret of the fact that Romney’s GOP rivals will play a starring role.
Watch Giuliani blow his fuse with Gingrich and Perry below:
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.