While the summer campaign season of the 2012 presidential election trudges on, the political class is furiously debating the merits of Gov. Romney’s tenure at Bain. The country is $16 trillion in debt, waging a global war on terror, and still desperately trying to climb out of a deep recession. Yet, the issue of the day as July ticks by, the political controversy du jour, is how the business experience of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney affects his ability to be an effective president.
The attacks on Romney’s business record seem to be working, at least for now. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that among swing-state voters, 32 percent see Romney’s Bain record as a reason to vote against him, while 16 percent say it’s a reason to vote for him. But the current Democratic playbook is nothing new. In fact, the strategy is almost an exact replica of what was used in 2010 against another successful businessman running in a hotly contested election in the national spotlight.
In 2010, Florida Democrats mercilessly attacked then-candidate Rick Scott over his record at Columbia/HCA, a company Scott founded that eventually became the largest private, for-profit health care company in the U.S. Democratic candidate Alex Sink spent much of the campaign alleging impropriety and scandal because Columbia/HCA paid $1.7 billion in fines to the U.S. government, never mind that Gov. Scott was never charged or even questioned in the matter.
Sink made it a central campaign issue. One month before the election Sink released a two-minute-long television ad accusing Scott of “outright fraud” and attacking his record at Columbia. That was just one ad out of many. Another TV spot that ran shortly before the election reminded Florida voters that they “have a lot of questions about Rick Scott.”
Even before Scott won the GOP primary, his rival, Attorney General Bill McCollum, attacked him relentlessly for his role at Columbia/HCA. The McCollum campaign famously announced that “Rick Scott not only oversaw fraud, Rick Scott is a fraud.”
Like Romney, Scott ran on his background as a successful businessman and ability to create jobs in a down economy. Scott’s rivals attacked his business experience and attempted to paint him as an ultra-wealthy, out-of-touch millionaire, just as Romney’s rivals are attempting to do today. Still, Scott managed to win the election.
So how did he do it? He responded, pounding back at the attacks and accusing his opponents of attacking a long history of private-sector, job-creating business experience purely for political gain. Team Scott called the Democratic attacks exactly what they were: a political sideshow to distract from the left’s dismal handling of the economy.
Last week, Obama’s deputy campaign manager even segued the debate into suggestions, based on two debunked media reports, that Romney is either guilty of a felony, or “he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments.”
If Romney is going to withstand the attacks on his business record and character, he’d be advised to respond with some force. President Obama has had three-and-a-half years to turn things around, to create an environment that fosters job creation and hit the brakes before we run off the fiscal cliff. And while this election should be about the economy, Obama has managed to turn it into an election about Romney’s wealth and private-sector business experience.
For Obama, it would seem that when government policies and a big-government agenda fail to fix the economy, the only thing left to do is blame the private sector. Romney shouldn’t let him get away with it. In fact, Obama’s willingness to attack the private sector, where jobs are actually created, should be an advantage for Team Romney.
Joe Kildea is a media and rapid response consultant with Rational 360. Previously, Joe was Managing Editor at The Daily Caller. On the campaign trail, Joe was war room manager for Bush-Cheney ’04 and rapid response director for Rick Scott for Governor. In government, Joe served in the Bush administration in the White House Press Office. A proud Hoya, Joe holds a B.S.B.A. and J.D. from Georgetown and is a native Washingtonian.