The Romney campaign wants to introduce a new concept into the debate over President Obama's economic record. Imagine the president ran an investment firm. He poured billions of dollars into green energy projects that didn't work. People lost jobs. He poured billions into sometimes implausible stimulus projects that didn't work, either. And even when he succeeded in keeping companies afloat, as he did with General Motors and Chrysler, he did it by downsizing and laying off thousands of workers.
And now, with that record, the president is attacking Mitt Romney for a successful career as a private equity investor at Bain Capital. Obama launched the first Bain attack ad Monday morning, blaming Romney for the failure of a Kansas City steel company, a failure that resulted in the loss of 750 jobs.
"We view Mitt Romney as a job destroyer," says one laid-off worker in the Obama ad.
Romney has long known the attack was coming. His campaign conducted a thorough study of all of Bain's dealings while Romney was there; they feel confident that Romney's record of successes far outweighs the failures. Romney also had an ad of his own waiting on Monday, featuring a steel mill that is thriving after Bain investments. And the Romney campaign took a hard look at those Obama investments.
"In the general election, I'll be pointing out that the president took the reins of General Motors and Chrysler, closed factories, closed dealerships, laid off thousands and thousands of workers," Mitt Romney said in January. "He did it to try to save the business."
That's the same sort of thing private equity investors do, Romney says -- they just don't do it with taxpayer dollars, as Obama has. And Romney supporters will likely emphasize that Obama's taxpayer-paid investments often went to people and organizations that contributed big money to Obama's campaign.
"When you're in the private sector, people make decisions based on profit and loss and what's going to create jobs and what's going to work," Romney adviser Ed Gillespie told conservative reporters on a conference call Monday afternoon. "When you have this level of government involvement in our economy, you have things like Solyndra and the decisions relative to the auto layoffs, and you don't have that transparency, you don't know if there's political influence -- who gets a health care waiver from the mandate and who doesn't? -- and they still don't say how they make those decisions."
"This crony capitalism ... is rampant in this administration and is a real problem," Gillespie said, "and yes, we are going to continue to talk about that."
Some Democrats seemed a bit taken aback at word that, in addition to Solyndra, the Romney campaign plans to hit Obama on the auto bailouts. Aren't those a big success? Well, the taxpayers' investment still has not been paid off, and the deal constituted a remarkable gift to some of Obama's top union supporters. In addition, what some people don't remember is that, as part of the bailouts, Obama demanded the closure of hundreds and hundreds of auto dealerships across the country in what turned out to be a costly and often haphazard process.
"President Obama's auto task force pressed General Motors and Chrysler to close scores of dealerships without adequately considering the jobs that would be lost or having a firm idea of the cost savings that would be achieved, an audit of the process has concluded," the New York Times reported in July 2010. "The report ... estimated that tens of thousands of jobs were lost as a result."
Democrats argue that Romney invested to get rich, while Obama did it to try to rescue the economy. But Romney can make a compelling case that Obama handed out taxpayer dollars to benefit Obama's own benefactors. If you were a big Obama bundler, then a big green-energy loan guarantee might have been headed your way.
Romney's record at Bain is a perfectly legitimate topic for political argument, since Romney has based a great deal of his candidacy on his success in business. But Obama is basing his candidacy on his own investments. And for the Romney campaign, that's the issue of the campaign. Making sure Americans are aware of the president's record is the top job of the campaign, Ed Gillespie said Monday: "Because he's not going to run on it, but we are."
Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blogposts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.