The race in New Hampshire has been defined less by candidates jockeying for top position and more by the all-out assault on Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital. In conservative circles, there have been two main critiques of this line of attack…and we think both are right.
The first says that the attacks, led mainly by Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, are unsavory and inappropriate coming from conservatives. The Republican Party is supposed to stand for free enterprise and a free market economy. Attacking Mitt Romney for his time helping assist companies that succeeded (and failed) is something you expect more from Moveon.org and Barack Obama, not rock-ribbed Reaganites.
This Occupier-like critique has caused even the biggest Mitt haters to come out in defense of the former Bay State Governor. Folks like Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner, who has been a leading critic of Romney, blasted the attacks, Hot Air's Ed Morrissey said he'd never vote in a primary for someone employing the anti-capitalist hits, and Rush Limbaugh went nuclear on Gingrich today for his attacks on Bain.
Backers of Gingrich and Perry have defended the attacks as legitimate…and they're half right.
They're clearly not legitimate lines of attack in a GOP primary — if they were the candidates had 15 debates to bring it up…and none of them did.
They're legitimate because they're coming down the pike via the Obama campaign if Romney is the nominee and Romney better be ready to respond forcefully and effectively.
If he can't respond well to these attacks with an audience receptive to free market economics he doesn't deserve the nomination — because he'll blow it in the general with an audience of Independents less enamored with all things capitalism.
In fact, one could even say these attacks on Romney's Bain record are helpful in the long run.
One liberal blogger, Megan Carpentier, complained to Al Gore's TV station that these attacks were actually to Romney's benefit because they will be "old hat" by the time swing voters tune in this fall:
“I think it presents a problem for the [Obama] administration though because they probably had attacks like this lined up for September and October when independent voters were really starting to pay attention.
And by airing this in South Carolina in January of 2012, it’s going to be old hat to the news media and people paying attention come September, October, when the people who are actually the potential targets for this ad in the general election are finally paying attention.”
Her point is well taken. Many issues of Obama's that could have been deadly in the general election — his ties to domestic terrorists, Jeremiah Wright, etc — had been so thoroughly hashed out in his race against Hillary Clinton that they lacked the punch they should have had in the general.
In the midst of the Great Recession, where jobs is by far the top issue to almost all voters, Romney's record at Bain Capital matters.
While it's sad to see conservatives employing an anti-capitalist line of attack, it was coming sooner or later. There's no crying in politics, so Romney better stiffen his spine and sharpen his response.
The fate of Barack Obama relies on it.