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Recalibrating the Romney Rhetoric

As Ben Domenech noted this morning, the rhetoric being aimed at Mitt Romney on the campaign trail over the past few days has been an embarrassment to the Republican candidates who are peddling it. Rick Perry has called Romney and his ilk at Bain Capital “vultures”; Newt Gingrich has essentially accused of him of pillaging the companies that Bain took over; and Jon Huntsman has said that Romney “enjoys firing people.”

None of these men are economically illiterate enough to believe the full force of these charges, which means we’re at a high tide for election season opportunism. As Romney said in tonight’s New Hampshire victory speech, “President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial. In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him. This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation.”

What’s most frustrating from this former speechwriter’s perspective is that (A) Romney is doing a miserable job of explaining and defending his record and (B) his opponents are missing an opportunity to hit Romney on his Bain background in a way that is both consistent with conservative economic principles and likely to give primary voters second thoughts.

I’ll post tomorrow on what Romney’s rivals can do. For now, here’s the message I’d like to see coming from Romney himself:

Over the past few days, you’ve been hearing my opponents say not only that I was responsible for people losing their jobs, but that I actually enjoyed the process. That ought to tell you that these individuals aren’t ready to manage something as complex as the largest economy on the planet. We’ve already had three years of a president who believes that jobs are created or lost based on what kind of mood employers wake up in in the morning.  But that’s just not true. Unlike politicians, employers have to face the harsh reality of balance sheets.  Unlike politicians, employers often have to sacrifice today to ensure that they can keep the doors open tomorrow. A bad day for a politician is flubbing an interview. A bad day for an employer is not knowing how you’re going to meet the next payroll period.

I would remind my opponents – as I would remind President Obama – that work is a form of public service. Our ability to make money is directly tied to our ability to provide something of value to our fellow man. But sometimes when the customer’s needs change or when we lose ground to our competitors, we have to make changes. We don’t choose these circumstances. As a matter of fact, we hate these circumstances. But, like many Americans that are struggling today, we accept the things that we cannot change, we make the hard choices, and we persevere. That is never an easy task. And unfortunately, sometimes people lose their jobs as a result. But what, I wonder, do my opponents think the alternative is?  If a company on the brink of failure has no choice but to let a few employees go now or to see all of their jobs disappear eventually, what should they do?

Those are the kind of painful choices that people face in the real economy. And I find it telling that that concept is foreign to my opponents. They’re not foreign to the American people – because they’re living through them every day. You can talk to anyone who’s ever sat behind a manager’s desk – whether it’s in a corner office or a corner store – and they’ll tell you that there’s nothing that they hate more than having to fire someone. Americans take pride in their work. Losing a paycheck hurts. But losing your sense of dignity hurts more. My experiences in business didn’t make me enjoy firing people. It made me loathe the politicians in Washington for whom those people are nothing more than statistics on a spreadsheet.

So let me tell you something that my opponents don’t understand. In businesses like the one I was in, you do well when the company you’ve invested in does well. And when they do well, it creates a virtuous cycle. Employees are better off because a thriving company can create jobs or increase pay and benefits. Consumers are better off because they can meet their needs within their budgets. And yes, management profits too when things are going well. And if my opponents have a problem with that, they’re running in the wrong primary.

  1. HVTs

    Troy – in your view as a speechwriter, can Romney craft a defense against the ‘vulture capitalist’ charge that revolves around:

    – he and Bain managed the affairs of private companies in competitive markets, sometimes with sorrowful results, but those results were ultimately the result of consumer choices and poor decisions by prior managers/owners.

    – the alternative we’ve seen under Obama: a President managing the public’s affairs with non-competitive choices made for political reasons—literally picking winners and losers based on Obama’s personal political self-interest.  Examples being GM bailout favoring his union supporters, Solyndra run by his big campaign donors, etc.

    My question really is: in the hands of a gifted writer, can’t ‘the vulture thing’ be effectively neutralized given Obama’s kleptocratic record?

    Is this really as big a vulnerability for Romney as it might seem?

    My only concern is: does Mitt have the stomach for delivering gut punches? I’m sure you could craft them, but can Mitt land the blows?

  2. liberal jim

    So you think it is the President’s job is to manage the economy.  That is what is wrong with the GOP.  The bottom line is vultures are good and necessary for the proper functioning of markets.  They are however not eagles and all the spin in the world isn’t going to change that.  

  3. LowcountryJoe
    Troy Senik, Ed.

    Our ability to make money is directly tied to our ability to provide something of value to our fellow man. But sometimes when the customer’s needs change or when we lose ground to our competitors, we have to make changes. We don’t choose these circumstances. 

    This is really the nugget that needs to be honed in on.  The very next sentence should talk of everyday consumers making new choices about where they’ll spend their income which is leading to some job loses in some areas but job gains in areas where the income is now being spent, saved, or invested.  Somewhere here you’d also want to talk of the dynamics of economic activity — people’s buying and selling activities always changing — and this leading to progress.  Then you hammer Obama for his lamenting of such changes, by bringing up his ATM comment.  Finally, and this is most important, you acknowledge the pain that some will feel due to such changes but you also would want to somehow discuss that these changes; that pain should cause one to keep skills valuable and to stay motivated & alert to potential changes rather than growing complacent.

  4. LowcountryJoe
    liberal jim: So you think it is the President’s job is to manage the economy.  That is what is wrong with the GOP.  The bottom line is vultures are good and necessary for the proper functioning of markets.  They are however not eagles and all the spin in the world isn’t going to change that.

    I don’t think Troy believes that.  I do, however, think that many voters see it that way.  I share your concern and wince at such things.  It’s tough to articulate the inner working of market capitalism precisely because “it” does sometimes bring pain and the emotional crap that comes along with that [and the great stuff get's missed].  Articulating these things while trying not to come off as the heartless meany is difficult for some.

    I think politicians should give much briefer answers at debates and when on the stump.  And then later back-fill comments with carefully written responses, or rehearsed audio of a response making sure that it’s still genuine and prefaced with something such as: “After reflecting more on and answer I gave to [insert paraphrased question], I wanted to add to what I was saying…”

  5. Larry3435

    And for some odd reason, employees who can be fired do much better work than employees who can’t be fired.  Just ask the principal of any public school.

  6. Pseudodionysius
    Dave Carter: Maybe if he had said he would enjoy firing Barack Obama?   · Jan 10 at 10:28pm

    I think the current President would object that the word firing causes undesirable effects on the climate.

  7. ParisParamus

    So you think it is the President’s job is to manage the economy.  That is what is wrong with the GOP. 

    The government is already managing the economy. 

    The reason why Romney is so well suited to the job of POTUS is that to get the government to manage less of the economy (or, theoretically, none of it), you need someone who has experience with management; even to get to the point of being able close the place down managerially, you need a manager who has the competence and aim to do that.  Romney has experience cutting and improving. 

    That’s also why thinking Rick Perry is The Man is a non-sequitur.  Texas is strong because Texans have previously said NO to managing less of the economy.  But that doesn’t mean Gov. Perry knows how to move Washington to being more like Texas.

  8. Scott R

     The jujitsu that Romney needs to pull off is to create the narrative that whoever attacks Bain is attacking free enterprise (and hence America). There then comes risk and downside to such attacks. 

    He’s largely pulled off this manuever in this primary (see the utter repudiation of Newt, Hannity calling Perry an occupier, etc). It’ll be tougher in the general, but if he’s disciplined and relentless in his message he can do it — at least enough that the Bain attacks are blunted and the focus goes back to Obama.

  9. Hang On

    “None of these men are economically illiterate enough to believe the full force of these charges, which means we’re at a high tide for election season opportunism.”

    What else do they have?

    And as for the quote “I enjoy firing people”: I hope it’s true. I really do. There’s a whole lot of firing that needs to go on in the federal government. Maybe he can hire Donald Trump to be czar of firings if he’s too busy with other things.

  10. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    Newt Gingrich has fully justified my misgivings about him, alas, alas. Mitt Romney, by not defending himself at all well, has partially justified my misgivings about him.

    It is good that these attacks are coming now. Romney is not quick-witted. He is, however, methodical and careful. When given time to work things out, he does pretty well. These attacks will alert him to what is to come and may induce him to put together a devastating response.

    Troy, he should start by hiring you.

  11. Carver

    It looks bad now but I thought immediately that a hashing out of this in public prior to Obama’s being able to use these items as talking points could not be more brilliant if it were planned. The media will pay attention because they hope the Republicans will destroy one another. While the cameras are rolling things that need more explanation than a talking point will be discussed repeatedly. All the answers will be old hat before Obama gets to take his shots.

  12. DocJay

    You’re hired.

  13. ParisParamus

    That is a beautiful piece of prose–have you ever considered being a speechwriter?

    Someone claimed on Twitter that Bain Capital had a 78% success rate, and implied that was not a very good score.  I responded that Bain, from what I understood, specialized new companies and companies in distress, which I analogized to the “success rate” in a hospital’s ICU or it’s neonatal care unit.

    Team Obama-DNC-MSM is champing at the bit to pain Mitt Romney as Gordon Gekko, or something.  Part of the response needs to be to respond, “no, more like Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet.”

  14. Peter Robinson
    C

    Stop this.  Stop this now.  We want you here at Ricochet, not hauled off to the campaign trail.

  15. Stuart Creque

    Troy, your speech doesn’t actually deal with the reality that Romney said the words, “I enjoy being able to fire people.”

    The two parts of the required defense are:

    1) “Apparently my opponents didn’t pay attention to the context — or perhaps they did, since Newt Gingrich admitted he took that quotation out of context.  My remark pointed out that it’s great to have a marketplace of choices, in which we are free to stop buying from a company that doesn’t do what it promises and to choose a different vendor.”

    2) “Still, let’s address the specific criticism that my opponents have made — that the Democrats have and will make.  As the economy changes, as new technologies and ideas arise, companies and employees have to adapt.  A manager may face the choice between letting some employees go or having to shut down the whole company and put everyone out of work.

    “But the other side of that coin is that companies that adapt can not only survive but  thrive, and grow their revenues and their job rolls.  Their employees grow in their careers.  And the economy as a whole grows and employs more people.”

  16. Garrett Petersen

    When people talk about Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital, it always increases my respect for him.  Without financial services like the ones provided by Bain, we wouldn’t have oil rigs, or skyscrapers, or anything that requires more capital than can be pooled by a small group of people.  Mitt Romney has contributed far more to mankind than the pithy millions he has earned for himself.  If his opponents want to vilify him, they should talk about RomneyCare.

  17. Flagg Taylor

     Troy,

    This is excellent, save one line: “I would remind my opponents – as I would remind President Obama – that work is a form of public service.”  It is not a public service, but certainly an essential part of the common good. 

  18. Underground Conservative

    For what it’s worth, Bain came in to Intel Corp. where I worked at the time several years ago and recommended some significant changes. I think it helped us a lot by trimming in areas where we were overstaffed. From then on, we had a solid model to run on and it helped the company flourish.

  19. ParisParamus

    Dave Molinari, your comment reminds me that, I believe, Bain Capital did/does two distinct things: it buys and sells companies, but it also consulting to fix companies; It’s this later activity that caught my attention about Romney, and why/what makes him so promising as a POTUS.

  20. Charles Allen

    Peter Robinson: “Stop this.  Stop this now.  We want you here at Ricochet, not hauled off to the campaign trail.” Peter, are you valuing Ricochet ahead of the country? If Troy can help to defeat Obama, I can approve of a leave-of-absence….

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