To the surprise of no one, Mitt Romney won the home field New Hampshire primary Tuesday night, leaving him securely and luxuriously ensconced in what you like to call your catbird’s seat, well on his way to the Republican nomination for president.
Despite all the gum flapping and heavy breathing by cable babblers about the second-and-third place finishes of Ron (“we’re nibbling at his heels”) Paul and Jon Huntsman however, the only truly unexpected feature of the Granite State GOP grope was that Romney spent the last few days getting bashed from the left in a Republican primary.
“The president wants to put free enterprise on trial,” Romney (New slogan: Just because I speak French doesn’t mean I can’t attack the European-style welfare state) said Tuesday night, repeating his knowingly-false attack line against Barack Obama. To which he added: “In the last few days, we’ve seen some desperate Republicans try to do the same thing.”
Romney referred, of course, to the recent assault on him by Newt Gingrich and, to a lesser extent, Rick Perry, for being a greedy, heartless, blood-sucking Mr. Potter-like corporate raider in his years running Bain Capital. By the time the polls closed last night, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and the eternally befuddled (truly 1-percenter) Perry were still waging class warfare on Mittens, while Huntsman and Paul had begun wagging fingers at the pair for incorrect capitalist thinking and Rick Santorum, who portrays himself as a tribune of blue collar types, was distancing himself from the line of attack as well.
Still, Newt’s Super PAC now is reportedly planning to blanket the airwaves of South Carolina with footage from a mini-documentary qua slasher film about Mitt’s years at Bain, in advance of the Palmetto State’s January 21 primary.
So the controversy isn’t going away anytime soon — to the certain delight of President Obama and his Democratic re-election drones, who will be spared trouble and expense in developing and focus grouping their own attack ads hitting Romney as a vicious plutocratic predator drone intent on sowing misery among the 99%; Barry’s Kids also now don’t have to bang so heavy on the keys on the issue of wealth disparity, which Obama has been doing since he decided to become a populist and forgo his can’t-we-all-just-get-along kissy-poo overtures to congressional Republicans (goodbye Bill Daley).
Here come the bullets: In other words, as right-wingers from Rush Limbaugh to the National Review are already fretting, Newt, wounded and enraged from Team Romney spoiling his presidential dreams with a Super PAC barrage in Iowa, is now generously previewing the fundamental argument that will underpin the president’s re-election effort. And that damages Mittens in three key ways:
— All the “Mitt Romney: Corporate Barbarian” charges undercut the central rationale for his candidacy. He portrays himself as a superman business executive consultant, whose experience, competence and understanding of how the economy works will rescue the nation; but, just as eMeg Whitman was undone by her connections to Goldman Sachs sleaze while running a similarly themed campaign for governor of California, Romney now risks being defined by the sordid image of high-flying investment types held by many voters, who are just as angry at Wall Street as at Washington.
— The Occupy Wall Street movement has succeeded in pushing the issue of the nation’s vast wage and wealth disparity onto the agenda of the 2012 campaign. While Republicans in the past have been successful in dismissing discussion and debate about the Third World levels of wealth concentration in the U.S. as unpatriotic “class warfare,” the inarguable facts about the massive gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else are now well-known by many mainstream voters, at a time when Romney stands as a central casting character representing the 1%.
— Romney suffers from a form of hoof in mouth disease that compels him to keep saying things that call attention to his privileged perch in life. Even before he blurted out that he “like(s) being able to fire people” on Monday (a quote that hurts him even though almost everyone agrees it was taken out of context, for reasons explained by Jim Fallows ), Romney essentially asserted in Sunday’s debate that only rich people should run for office. He also later claimed he personally had faced the threat of getting a “pink slip” (his campaign still hasn’t been able to explain when exactly that was — a cross-dressing party at Harvard Business School maybe?).
To what advantage? Earlier on Tuesday, Limbaugh complained* that Gingrich is attacking Romney “using the language of the left” – an assault so counter-intuitive, so left-wing, so, well, Democratic, it caused heads to explode from Wall Street to K Street. Meanwhile, the conservative Club for Growth PAC accused Gingrich of employing “economically ignorant class warfare rhetoric.”
From a partisan perspective, it’s not hard to see why they’re upset. Still, you have to give Gingrich style points for defending himself: “There’s a big difference between people who go out and create a company — even if they fail — if they try to go in the right direction, if they share in the hardships, if they’re out there with the workers doing it together,” he said. “That’s one thing. But if someone who is very wealthy comes in and takes over your company and takes out all the cash and leaves behind the unemployment?”
Said Perry, with more folksy bluntness: “They’re vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb, waiting for the company to get sick, and then they sweep in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that, and they leave the skeleton.”
As our friend, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, summed up on MSNBC: “Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have become the chief surrogates for President Obama.”
All of which raises an interesting question of political analysis: What strategic purpose do Gingrich and/or Perry have in attacking Romney as a rip-your-lungs-out Gordon Gekko knockoff in his years at Bain? How do they think they will benefit from laying down precisely the line of fire that Obama and the Democrats have and will use against the man who is likely to be the GOP nominee?
Why? How? Because Gingrich and Perry were just using the New Hampshire primary as a stage to fight for South Carolina, which is far more economically distressed and loaded with angry, lower-income, poorly-educated, anti-Wall Street right-wing populists who have become an important sector of the New South Republican Party.
As Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, a native of South Carolina, told Calbuzz, it’s all about Bubba. “Willard Mitt Romney is not Joe the Plumber,” Carrick said. Whether the pro-Gingrich PAC that is attacking Romney has an actual strategy, he said, it surely has a “strategic rationalization” — that by appealing to voters’ anti-elite sentiments, they can slow Mitt down.
The future lies ahead: Whatever it is that Newt’s thinking at the moment, we’re sticking with the Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything in viewing the Republican race as essentially over. That doesn’t mean, however, that Romney will stop campaigning for it until he gets the delegates he needs to be nominated. And at the very least for one more primary – depending on exactly how crazy and well-funded Gingrich and his allies turn out to be – that means he’ll keep facing gnarly questions about the rosy picture he paints about his record in the private sector.
Which will lead to more scenes like this one in New Hampshire, splendidly described by the Washpost’s Dana Milbank, who covered the “I like firing people” event:
If this weren’t enough evidence that Romney represented the Plutocrat Progress Party, the first questioner confirmed it.
“In this historic election, we need to convince the masses that our vision as conservatives benefits them,” she said. “So my question is: How will you as the nominee get the minds of America behind you?”
At least she didn’t say “unwashed masses.”
Romney didn’t show any concern that the woman had spoken aloud from the plutocrats’ playbook. “That is the question of my campaign, of course,” he said.
Only 301 days until the election.
* One reason Limbaugh may be so extravagantly distressed about this matter: Bain owns Clear Channel, which pays his salary. H/t Buzzfeed.