April 30, 2012
How quickly they want America to forget. For months, the GOP presidential field has attacked Mitt Romney for everything. He’s bland, boring, out-of-touch, a political and business insider. He's awkward and insensitive. Moreover, he’s insufficiently conservative – hardly a true believer. And even worse than strapping the family dog to the car's roof, he is too close to Obama on key issues, making him unelectable.
But now, as Romney wraps up the GOP nomination, the party’s also-rans are running to Romney’s side and endorsing the man, as if their criticisms and barbs were never uttered at all. Last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who called Romney a “vulture capitalist” during the primary fight, now says Mitt is the man to lead an economic recovery. And this week, the Republicans' most acerbic Romney critic, Newt Gingrich, will appear
with Mitt to confer his blessings.
So before the Mitt love fest coalesces, we thought we would compile some of the soon-to-be-hushed-up criticisms that punctuated the news in recent months. Readers will no doubt remember others. Meanwhile, let’s recall what the other GOP contenders said about Romney—possibly framing his faults better than any Democrat will.
1. Too much like Obama on healthcare.
The Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature achievement, is the law the GOP loves to hate. Last summer, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty attacked
Romney’s healthcare reforms as Massachusetts governor as being nearly identical to Obama's efforts--hardly giving any real Republican confidence that Romney would unwind them as promised, if elected.
“Look, Obamacare was patterned after Mitt’s plan in Massachusetts,” Pawlenty said. “And for Mitt or anyone else to say there aren’t substantial similarities or they are not essentially the same plan—it just isn't credible. So that's why I called it Obamneycare, and I think that's a fair label. I’m happy to call it that again tonight.”
Pawlenty endorsed Romney on September 12, 2011, praising
his qualifications. “Alone among the contenders, he possesses the unique qualifications to confront and master our severe economic predicament,” he said. “His abiding faith in our country’s exceptional historical position as a beacon of freedom will make him the most important leader in a world that depends upon a strong America to stay at peace.”
2. ‘Vulture capitalist’ and job-killer at Bain.
The Obamacare attacks were low-hanging fruit. As the first nominating contests neared, Romney's rivals turned to his record
as a heartless capitalist. Gingrich attacked
Romney for being a predatory businessman days before New Hampshire primary, on Sunday, January 8. “I don’t think a Milton Friedman or a Hayek would say to you, rich guys have to go and rip off companies and leave a wreckage behind,” Gingrich told the press after a town hall meeting. “I think that’s plundering. I don’t think that's capitalism.”
“I don’t want to pre-judge Romney,” he continued. “But you can’t have capitalism on the way up and socialism on the way down. You can’t have somebody who says, ‘I’m so smart. I want a huge upside, and by the way I’m so smart you’re going to get ripped off while I get a huge upside.’ If these things all turn out to be relatively valid, at some point in the near future, he’s going to have to do a press conference just to explain Bain [Capital, Romney’s firm]… which is inevitably going to lead to questions about [tax] records that he doesn’t want to release.”
Gingrich was building on a theme that he had been striking for days. Two days before, at another New Hampshire event he questioned Romney’s job-creating credentials by asking what happened
to the jobs and assets at the firms that were bought and restructured by Bain.
“It’s a legitimate question about exactly what happened: Where did the money go? Who got the money? What happened to the people involved?” Gingrich said. “He’s the one who went around and said he has 20 years experience. Fine. Now let’s talk about the 20 years experience.”
Days later, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in Anderson, South Carolina, went even further than Gingrich by visiting towns where Bain had closed factories and attacked
Romney’s record as a leveraged buy-out artist. “If you are the victim of Bain Capital's downsizing, it is the ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina and tell you he feels your pain,” he told a crowd at a restaurant. "He caused it."
“I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips—whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out,” Perry continued. At another South Carolina campaign stop he said
, “There’s nothing wrong with being successful and making money—that’s the American dream. But there is something inherently wrong when getting rich off failures and sticking it to someone else is how you do your business. I happen to think that that is indefensible.”
“There’s a real difference between venture capitalism and vulture capitalism,” Perry told
Fox News from South Carolina, creating the soundbite that has stuck. “Venture capitalism we like. Vulture capitalism, no. And the fact of the matter is that he’s going to have to face up to this at some time or another, and South Carolina is as good a place to draw that line in the sand as any.”
Last week, Perry endorsed Romney, issuing a statement on Wednesday, that in part lauded
Romney’s economic credentials.
“Mitt's vision and record of private-sector success will put America back on the path of job creation, economic opportunity and limited government,” he said, adding
, “Mitt Romney has earned the Republican presidential nomination through hard work, a strong organization and disciplined message of restoring America after nearly four years of failed job-killing policies from President Obama.”
For the record, Perry first endorsed Gingrich before shifting to Romney. He expressed his appreciation in a tweet, saying
it was “Great to have Gov. Perry’s support.”
3. Insensitive and out of touch with the middle-class.
That tweeted reply highlights a persistent criticism about Romney—that nobody really knows what he’s thinking, and when unfiltered tidbits slip out
, it gets a bit strange.
Earlier when the GOP field was much larger, candidates such as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman were vying to be the party’s chosen moderate. He attacked Romney for being out of touch with everyday Americans, seizing on Romney's utterance that he liked to “fire people” -- referring to companies that did not perform as well as expected. Speaking in New Hampshire, Huntsman noted
that the frontrunner seemed distant and insensitive to people experiencing difficulties in a hard economy.
“It seems that Governor Romney believes in putting politics first. Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs,” Huntsman said. “It may be that he’s slightly out of touch with the economic reality playing out in America right now, and that’s a dangerous place to be.”
Gingrich also echoed the theme of Romney being the chosen candidate of Wall Street and Washington insiders before Florida's primary. In late January, he told
CBS, “I think when you have a left-wing billionaire [George Soros] tell
Europeans that he thinks Romney’s just fine because he’s just as much a part of the establishment as Obama and that he can live with Romney, and then you look at Goldman Sachs which was the number-one funder of Obama, now they’re the number-one funder of Romney -- I think it’s pretty easy to make the case [that] Romney is the guy who will manage the decay, he’s not the guy who is going to change Washington.”
Romney in South Carolina, barely a week after losing in New Hampshire, saying, “I believe it is now time for our party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama… I believe that candidate is Mitt Romney.”
4. A serial flip-flopper, if not a liar.
Several GOP candidates said Romney did not exactly have a firm grip on facts and was prone to making wildly inaccurate assertions. On CBS before Florida’s primary, Gingrich attacked Romney for his inconsistencies, saying
, “Lincoln once said if a man won't agree that two plus two equals four then you'll never win the argument because facts don't matter. Romney's the first candidate I've seen who fits the Lincoln description.”
He continued, “Look, when somebody says to you, ‘I’ve always voted for the Republican when the opportunity existed’ and Larry Sabato [a University of Virginia political analyst] tweets within minutes that what Mitt said wasn’t true--that in fact he could have voted for George H.W. Bush or Pat Buchanan on the day that he voted in the Democratic primary for Paul Tsongas.”
Rep. Michelle Bachmann made the same point weeks before the Iowa caucuses when trying to lay claim to being the GOP’s truest conservative. Bachmann said
, “He is the governor that put in place the precursor to Obamacare—-socialized medicine for Massachusetts. He also has been an advocate for abortion. Now he’s saying that he’s pro-life and he’s also been an advocate for same-sex marriage. He signed 189 same-sex marriage licenses as governor. But that just begins to scratch the surface of his policies.”
Bachmann this week said she would
endorse Romney, but the time was not yet ripe.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has not yet said
if he would endorse Romney. But in February in Ohio, he lambasted
Romney for criticizing him for seeking congressional pork while he was a senator--when Romney did exactly the same thing for the 2002 Olympics.
“He heroically bailed out the Salt Lake City Olympic games by heroically going to Congress and asking them for tens of millions of dollars to bail out the Salt Lake Olympic games, in an earmark,” Santorum thundered. “Does the word hypocrisy come to mind?”
Funny Santorum would use that word. But then again he hasn't endorsed Mitt Romney. Yet.
Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).