Romney's business experience

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, January 17, 2012


The way in which Mitt Romney’s past business experience has become a contentious campaign issue underlines the fact that any personal trait can become a liability when a candidate fails to define himself.  Romney must design a strategy to prevent President Obama’s well financed campaign apparatus from defining him as a reckless businessman with a track record of job destruction.


A week after his victory in the New Hampshire primaries, and as he campaigns to secure victories in the upcoming South Carolina and Florida primaries, Romney is already the presumptive Republican presidential candidate.  Conservatives republicans are still strongly opposing him. However, the fact that the conservative vote is divided among Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul makes Romney’s election inevitable.  He still needs to work hard to secure victories in the upcoming primaries, since his remaining opponents will probably stay in the race until early March. However, Romney’s main concern is to convince Americans that he is a good alternative to replace Barack Obama.


Among his main liabilities as a candidate, Romney’s religion and his apparent lack of principled stands have been the favorite for his opponents to highlight. His Republican rivals have accused him of being a flip-flopper. After having championed a government-mandated universal health care plan as governor of Massachusetts, he denounced President Obama’s health care initiative as excessive government intervention.  Romney has defended a confusing argument. He claims that is acceptable for state governments to impose mandated health care but not for the federal government.  The Obama campaign team has cast Obamacare as based on the successful initiative championed by Rommey in Massachusetts.  Though his flip-flopping on mandated health care will probably remain an issue during the general campaign, Romney has minimized the damage by keeping a disciplined position on defending the notion that states can do as they please, but the federal government cannot impose a nationally mandated health insurance.


Some Republican presidential hopefuls unsuccessfully tried to use Romney’s Mormonism as a tool to against him. Considered as not being Christian by most born-again Pentecostals, Mormonism was a potential liability for Romney. However, since the 2008 campaign, when he openly talked about his religion and directly addressed the issue, Romney has been able to transform his religious beliefs into an asset.  Americans value the fact that he is religious and that he has kept his faith despite the political costs.


Romney now faces a new potentially damaging liability. His past experience as businessman and founder of a consulting company has emerged as the last tool to be used against him by his desperate Republican rivals. President Obama’s campaign team is eagerly testing the effect of the new wave of accusations to refine the attacks that will surely come when the official campaign begins in September.


In 1984, when he was 37 years old, Romney founded Bain Capital, a company that provided consulting services to other companies that needed restructuring. Romney, who comes from a wealthy family, made millions from the company.  He distanced himself from Bain when he entered politics in 2003 to win the governorship of Massachusetts. However, his former association with Bain has become a contentious issue with implications probably far more damaging than his health care reform record as governor of Massachusetts. 


Because Bain Capital provided consulting services to companies that needed restructuring, Bain Capital involvement with many companies resulted in layoffs and personnel reduction.  Republican opponents have used that argument to question Romney’s ability to understand the realities of middle class Americans.  The fact that Romney is the son of a former governor of Michigan and was educated in elite schools reinforces the notion that he belongs in the top wealthiest 1% rather than the other 99% that most Americans identify as members of.  President Obama’s campaign team—and the President himself—have seized the opportunity to cast Romney as a businessman more interested in job destruction than job creation.  Some unfortunate statements by Romney—who referred to liking having the ability to fire people—have been used by democratic strategists in a distorted way to help feed that strategy.


Unlike his rapid and swift reaction to the attacks against him for his Mormon religion, Romney has been less effective in addressing the Bain Capital issue.  He has tried to clarify the issue, but his opponents in the Republican primary have insisted in associating Romney with job destruction. President Obama has also tried to cast himself as interested in job creation and has missed no opportunity to label Romney as a businessman not concerned with creating employment.


Because unemployment will be one of the defining issues in the 2012 election, and given the present high levels of unemployment that will hinder his re-election campaign, President Obama has sought the opportunity to cast Romney as less apt to deal with high unemployment than the current administration. Though it is too early to assess the electoral effect of the strategy, Romney now has another big liability to deal with in the coming months.