The political attacks on Mitt Romney about his days as chief executive of Bain Capital, an equity investment, venture capital, and leveraged buyout firm that Romney led in the 1990s, certainly sound familiar to fellow Republican Tom Foley, who lost a razor-thin election in November 2010 to now Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Like Romney, Foley was caught a bit off guard when the attacks initially came from a fellow Republican — Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele — during the Republican gubernatorial primary. In Foley’s case the attack ad commercials centered on the 1998 closing of The Bibb Co., a Georgia textile mill that the venture capitalist failed to turn around, eventually losing executive control in 1996 during a bankruptcy. Foley called the attacks unfair because subsequent ownership closed the plant and because textile plants were failing across the South because of foreign competition.
In Romney’s case the attacks have also come from fellow Republican competitors, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry saying Romney was not a venture capitalist, but a “vulture capitalist.” Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich argues there is a distinction between growing a business and doing what Romney often did: “Looting a company, leaving behind broken families and broken neighborhoods, and leaving behind a factory that should be there.”
“It’s a little déjà vu,” Foley told the Hartford Courants’ Christopher Keating.
But unlike Foley, who tried to address the issue with complex explanations, Romney has developed a simple retort, though he did not expect to need it until the general election contest began with President Obama.
“President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial. In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him. This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation. This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We must offer an alternative vision. I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success,” said Romney in his New Hampshire victory speech.
So there you have it. According to Romney, any criticism of his running of Bain Capital is an attack on “free enterprise,” an exercise in the “bitter politics of envy” over his success as a businessman, the act of a “leader who divides us.”
“So are you for free enterprise or against it?” That’s how Romney wants to frame the debate. Foley might be Connecticut governor if he could have made that simple case; and Romney could well be the next president if he can. Stay tuned.