The GOP frontrunner’s rivals portray him as a heartless financier. If Mitt Romney does win in South Carolina, the Democrats are ready to exploit that image
The fierce fight for the Republican presidential nomination, which is likely to see Mitt Romney emerge as the party’s candidate, is offering an arsenal of potential ammunition for the Democrats. As the bitter struggle has unfolded, an array of social conservatives has lined up to oppose the more moderate former Massachusetts governor, while Democratic strategists are drawing up potential lines of attack to use against Romney.
They are identifying various areas in which they believe Romney – should he practically wrap up the Republican nomination with victory in South Carolina on 21 January – is vulnerable. They include his work as a financier at a firm that shut down companies and laid off workers, his vast Wall Street wealth, and a history of changing his opinions.
“The White House will argue that he is a cold-blooded, out-of-touch millionaire with a questionable jobs record,” said Larry Haas, a political commentator and former aide in the Bill Clinton White House. “The White House will likely put it forward that Romney is not on the side of ordinary Americans,” Haas added.
Republican infighting has already done much of that work for President Barack Obama and his re-election planners. Over the past week two of Romney’s major rivals, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas governor Rick Perry, have brutally attacked Romney’s time as head of Bain Capital.
Perry has repeatedly gone after Romney’s time at Bain, often using bloodcurdling language that even liberal Democrats might shy away from. Perry said Romney was a “vulture” whose style of business fed on the “carcasses” of American workers. He has already raised two specific cases in South Carolina, where local firms were closed down by Bain, in an attempt to stir up anti-Romney feelings.
Perry has been joined in the fight by Gingrich and his supporters. In a remarkable flip for a figure normally associated with a muscular defence of American-style capitalism, Gingrich too has been lambasting Romney’s time at Bain Capital as an immoral pursuit of wealth above all else.
But Gingrich’s supporters, in the shape of a group called Winning Our Future, have gone much further. WOF, an organisation known as a super PAC (political action committee) that can spend unlimited money on causes but is banned from co-ordinating with a candidate’s campaign, has financed a half-hour film called When Mitt Romney Came to Town. The documentary examines Romney’s work at Bain and features emotional interviews with people who lost their jobs as Bain closed down their companies. WOF has released the film through the internet and has cut parts of it into numerous TV attack ads that are flooding the airwaves in South Carolina, paid for by a multimillion-dollar donation from a casino mogul.
One is called “King of Bain”. In the ad one man refers to Romney by saying: “He pulled the rug out from under our plant.” It closes with a woman saying: “I feel that is the man that destroyed us.”
The civil war is disturbing the Republican establishment, too, who are concerned that Perry, Gingrich and their allies are doing the Democrats’ work and causing huge damage to the Republican name. In South Carolina, even some of Gingrich’s main backers have been shocked.
Paul Anderko, a vice-president with GPS Conservatives for Action in the state, told the Observer the attacks on Bain were a sign of Gingrich’s desperation. “Republicans are making a mistake attacking him [Romney] in the way they are doing over this. All they are doing is giving fuel to Obama’s campaign,” Anderko said.
It is not just Bain that Democrats will be planning to attack Romney on if he does emerge from the bruising South Carolina battle as the Republican nominee. In order to woo social conservatives in the Republican base, Romney has embraced an anti-abortion stance and come out strongly against gay marriage. However, as governor of Massachusetts Romney had quite different and much more moderate positions. Such “flip-flops” are a powerful weapon to be used in any election campaign and Romney has become notorious, even among Republicans, as someone who has switched beliefs for political gain.
Again, it is something that Romney’s conservative opponents have been hitting him with in South Carolina. Gingrich has even run an ad saying Romney cannot be trusted. Such negativity is common in the state’s notoriously dirty politics. But what is new is the openness of it, especially via the super PACs. “Usually the dirty politics is a whispering campaign. But not this year,” said Professor Mark Tompkins,a political scientist at the University of South Carolina.
The really significant story about the 2012 fight between the Republicans and Obama might, however, be unfolding outside South Carolina, as the US economy gradually but noticeably revives. “Obama has managed to move the ship of the economy in the right direction,” said Haas. If the upturn lasts, the anti-Romney playbook already being devised will continue to write itself.