Several days after the New Hampshire primary, conservative leaders are still seething about the three Republican presidential candidates who alleged presidential front-runner and former businessman Mitt Romney made profits by destroying companies and laying off workers. The political attacks against Romney were led by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose super PAC has produced a 27-minute video about the former Massachusetts governor and his investment firm Bain Capital. Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman joined Gingrich in the line of attack.
Following the New Hampshire primary, PJ Media conducted a series of discussions with national conservative and libertarian leaders. Their comments shed light on the troubled campaigns of Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Jon Huntsman as they head to South Carolina.
PJ Media contacted free market leaders who have remained neutral in the presidential race, have not endorsed any candidate, or are leaders of non-partisan organizations. While many expressed some misgivings about Romney, they also expressed universal condemnation for the three Republicans who are trying to unseat Romney from his front-runner status.
David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, told PJ Media:
Interestingly enough, they may be making free-marketers more sympathetic to Mitt Romney, who is not their favorite candidate.
Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, told PJ Media the attacks on Romney for making money were “bizarre” and “destructive.” He said all three candidates ought to apologize to Romney:
In the heat of passion, in a campaign, people say and do things that they regret. I hope the people who have engaged in this will apologize for it and move on.
The consensus is that the three have tarnished their bona fides as Reagan Republicans, an important turn as the presidential race turns from liberal New England to conservative South Carolina.
On Tuesday night in New Hampshire, Gingrich said he was the only true conservative in the race. He told his supporters he was a conservative in the mold of Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Yet all of the conservative leaders contacted by PJ Media scoffed at this. Said Norquist:
I think if you’re a Reagan Republican you don’t attack people for investing, taking risks in the free market. … That’s the kind of thing we expect to hear from Obama. It’s not something we expect to hear from Republicans.
Tim Phillips, president of free market activist group Americans for Prosperity, agreed:
Are they Reagan conservatives? I got to tell you, they are not talking and sounding like a Reagan conservative. That’s not what a Reagan conservative would say.
Fred Smith, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said he was shocked by the candidates’ behavior:
I’m never shocked when you hear anything from Newt Gingrich’s mouth. … I was shocked when I heard it out of Huntsman’s mouth. And I was surprised when it came out of Perry’s mouth.
When you think about Gingrich bragging about how he’s a Reagan conservative and he worked with Ronald Reagan, I try to imagine Ronald Reagan making a criticism like this of an opponent. … Criticizing a political opponent for having made money in business, that is something you would not expect Ronald Reagan to do.
Gingrich’s super PAC “Winning Our Future” has produced a 27-minute documentary on Romney and Bain Capital. The documentary has not been released but a brief trailer hosted on the PAC’s web site accuses Romney of callous greed, of trying to make a quick buck as a “corporate raider,” and of being “more ruthless than Wall Street.” So far Gingrich appears unrepentant, although he confessed to CBS News he cannot “talk rationally” about Romney and his investment firm. Gingrich limped out of New Hampshire with only single digits of support, but vowed to continue his attacks on Romney for his leadership at Bain Capital and promised South Carolina would be the “Armageddon of all attacks.”
Thursday, Governor Perry omitted his charge from a speech in South Carolina that Romney and Bain were “vulture capitalists,” but ABC News reports he continued the venomous line in interviews. On the night of the New Hampshire primary, the Texas governor vowed to go to a number of South Carolina cities where Bain invested in companies that eventually closed down or laid off workers. Earlier in the week, he said Bain and Romney “looted” a photo company in Gaffney, S.C., and a steel company in Georgetown, S.C. Perry declared:
I would suggest they are just vultures. … They are vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb waiting for the company to get sick, then they swoop in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that and they leave the skeleton.
Perry’s stance is taking a toll on the Texas governor. Investment fund manager Barry Wynn, a major donor, said he was withdrawing his financial support for Perry and supporting Romney.
Most conservatives said the entire attack was unprincipled, displayed an ignorance of the American economy, and that the assault ultimately would fail. Said Smith:
The willingness to essentially throw away principle just for populist rhetoric is silly. I mean, if you want a socialist to run this country you don’t need to go to a Republican. You’ve got a perfectly good choice from the Democratic side.
Benjamin Powell, a senior fellow at non-partisan think tank Independent Institute, said Gingrich and Perry were doing a good job promoting a Hollywood version of American business. He told PJ Media the statements by the Republican candidates were “demagoguery”:
It does confuse the public. … It’s like the old movie Wall Street where they picture Gordon Gekko. … Just like Hollywood they undermine our understanding of how markets really operate.
[He is] criticizing private firms with their own private money on the line, engaging in competitive market activities. And that is the stuff that Democrats are supposed to do. Not your modern, post-Reagan Republicans are supposed to do. But that is exactly what Gingrich is doing. And it shows how unprincipled the guy is.
Phillips agreed with Boudreaux, saying the candidates are desperate and playing political games:
We expected this from President Obama, from Occupy Wall Street and from the unions. … But from the former speaker, from the governor of the great state of Texas? We think they know better. We think they are playing political games. … Why on Earth they would attack the private sector work of one of the candidates is beyond me. … It shows a complete lack of understanding of free markets, free enterprise, and capitalism.
Most felt the Gingrich attack was, in fact, pure Gingrich. Said Smith:
Newt has been lots of things in his life. He’s clever. He’s articulate. He doesn’t have a lot of reflective capacity. … He’s certainly not a consistent free market person.
In an unusual show of bipartisan agreement, both the liberal Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal questioned the integrity of the assault on Romney and Bain Capital. Per the Post:
Risking your money on a business idea, and persuading others to join you, is Capitalism 101, a strange thing for conservatives like Mr. Perry and Mr. Gingrich to criticize — the latter with the “independent” help of a super PAC bankrolled by a casino magnate. Better that private parties take investment risks than government — as in the case of now-bankrupt Solyndra, or the hundreds of millions in state funds that Mr. Perry has steered to Texas high-tech firms.
The Wall Street Journal editorialized that Gingrich and Perry used “crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism.”
Some predict Gingrich’s campaign will collapse in South Carolina. Writes Post columnist Jennifer Rubin:
There can be no better evidence of Gingrich’s unfitness to serve than his behavior over the past week. Having attacked Bain earlier in the campaign and then expressing remorse about the attacks, he went back to the well with even more incendiary language, accusing Romney of making money off the misery of others. The guy who told Occupy Wall Street protesters to take a “bath” is now the mouthpiece for David Axelrod and President Obama.
Boaz said social media was railing against the three:
I think free market people are Facebooking, and tweeting and emailing each other saying, “what is wrong with these people?”
Smith feels there might be a rough ride ahead for the nation during this campaign:
History provides plenty of examples where chaos creates even worse political chaos. I’m a despairing optimist.