[Reposted from earlier yesterday.]
I just watched the Bain documentary featured below and being broadcast throughout South Carolina by Newt Gingrich's SuperPac in full. It's loaded with out-of-context quotes and heavily biased; it focuses on the specific human suffering of the necessary "creative destruction" of capitalism not its general benefits to the economy. It does so through the voices and stories of ordinary Americans. And, as an emotional bludgeon, it's devastating.
But what makes it so dangerous to Romney, it seems to me, is that the Bain Brahmin didn't just fire thousands of working class people in restructuring and in closing companies. He made a fucking unimaginable fortune doing it. That's the issue. Other Republicans can speak about the need for free markets in a sluggish economy. But with Romney, we have a singular example of someone who made a quarter of a billion dollars by firing the white middle and working class in droves in ways that do not seem designed to promote growth or efficiency, but merely to enrich Bain.
Here's the New York Post, for Pete's sake, making the case last year against the shifty Wall Street games of Bain:
Romney's private equity firm, Bain Capital, bought companies and often increased short-term earnings so those businesses could then borrow enormous amounts of money. That borrowed money was used to pay Bain dividends. Then those businesses needed to maintain that high level of earnings to pay their debts…
* Bain in 1988 put $5 million down to buy Stage Stores, and in the mid-'90s took it public, collecting $100 million from stock offerings. Stage filed for bankruptcy in 2000.
* Bain in 1992 bought American Pad & Paper (AMPAD), investing $5 million, and collected $100 million from dividends. The business filed for bankruptcy in 2000.
* Bain in 1993 invested $60 million when buying GS Industries, and received $65 million from dividends. GS filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
* Bain in 1997 invested $46 million when buying Details, and made $93 million from stock offerings. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2003.
Romney's Bain invested 22 percent of the money it raised from 1987-95 in these five businesses, making a $578 million profit.
Some of the associations in the ad are unfair – but they will resonate emotionally. Many, many people in, say, South Carolina, have lost jobs. That's rough enough. But if Romney comes across as the man who made a fortune off this kind of Wall Street maneuvering, he becomes a symbol and a focus for all the roiling populist discontent out there. When he is responsible for someone losing her house, the contrast with his multiple mansions and private beach gets a little de trop. One ad with one victim could be poison.
Of all the jobs he liquidated, moreover, many are in the American heartland. And his response to the people in this documentary – white working class heartland Americans, the GOP base – is that they are merely envious of his achievements. They don't come off that way in the ad. They come off as bewildered, betrayed and sure that Romney's goal in all this was merely, solely to make money for himself – the kind of money that most Americans cannot even compute.
I simply cannot imagine a worse narrative for a candidate in this climate; or a politician whose skills are singularly incapable of responding to the story in any persuasive way. This ad is powerful. Romney has already seen a drop in South Carolina. I suspect he'll drop some more. And I suspect once the potency of this line of attack is absorbed by the GOP establishment, there will be some full, if concealed, panic.