The PJ Tatler

Romney: I Like Being Able to Fire People

A rare unforced error from Camp Romney, from a meeting in Nashua, NH this morning:

Romney’s GOP rivals are pouncing on the remark, leading to unforced errors of their own. If your opponent is hurting himself, trying to help him hurt himself may end up hurting you too. There can be a utility in going populist to point out a rival’s weakness, but like Romney’s comments defending the status quo on Social Security a few months ago, populism taken too far becomes anti-capitalist. The fact is, in right-to-work states and in a free capitalist society, the right to fire people for poor performance is pretty fundamental. A staple of Republican talk on education centers on the right to fire teachers who underperform, a right the unions strip away.

That said, this remark highlights one of Mitt Romney’s most serious weaknesses as a general election candidate. At Bain Capital, Romney led efforts to purchase and turn companies around, and that process usually involves layoffs. It’s part of capitalism’s creative destruction. But in casting himself unintentionally as a fat cat trader type, Romney may be opening himself up to revenge voting. Many Americans have faced layoffs or the prospect of losing their jobs and/or their homes over the past few years. Their homes are either worth about the same or less than when purchased, harming many American families’ chief sources of long-term investment. The rise in tuition costs at universities and the continued rise in health care costsm (getting worse after ObamaCare) plus the evident insolvency of Social Security in the future are all working to create a kind of white knuckle life, as millions of Americans just try to hold on. While a majority right now thinks Barack Obama is doing a poor job as president, Mitt Romney may end up pushing some swing voters into the Obama camp just by being the kind of candidate who seems to represent the CEOs who never seem to suffer from the slashing and downsizing that they do. For many, a vote against Romney may amount to taking their economic frustrations out on a symbol, policy and consequences be damned. If Obama was a symbol of hope and change and racial harmony in 2008, Romney can be a symbol of our economic problems now. And his comment above opens him up to just that sort of symbolism.

I’m not saying that that’s fair or wise, just that it’s a possibility.