Mitt’s Luck: The Mistaken Focus on ‘99 as Pivot Point
The new questions about Mitt Romney’s sworn version of his 1999 departure from Bain Capital—which seems to contradict statements in SEC filings, testimony given to prove his Massachusetts residency, and corporate annual reports—are causing his campaign such a headache that someone in Romneyland was moved to float Condi Rice’s veep prospects last night as a diversion. The renewed focus on Bain, as I wrote yesterday, vindicates the Obama team’s decision to press forward with its criticisms of Romney’s tenure year despite the much-ballyhooed warnings of the mayor of the 68th biggest city in the country.
But Romney has been getting some support from surprising quarters, which over the long run may serve to help him argue that the Bain attacks are mostly unfair and unfounded, equivalent to the 2004 Swift-boating of John Kerry. I am all for full vetting of campaign attacks by either side—just a few weeks ago, I judged as strained and dubious Team Obama’s attacks on Romney’s record as governor. But the defenses of Romney in this case seem to be missing two crucial points.
Let’s step back briefly and remind ourselves how this whole fight about the timing of Romney’s departure began. If he is running on his success at Bain Capital, then why is the candidate so adamant about the fact that he left the firm in 1999, and not in 2002 as some of the new revelations suggest? Quite simple: because he does not want to be associated with some of the less politically palatable activities that Bain was involved in post-‘99, such as the bankruptcy of a Kansas City steel plant that the Obama campaign has seized on. And indeed, two factchecking outfits, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler and factcheck.org, have scored as misleading Team Obama’s attacks on Romney for Bain deals that involved sending American jobs to China and Mexico. The jobs were shipped overseas after Romney’s 1999 departure to lead the Olympics, judged the factcheckers. And today, Jonathan Chait, normally a fierce nemesis of Romneyland, endorsed this general defense:
But Bain Capital did those things after Romney stopped running the company. It would be accurate to say that Romney’s firm did those things, and fair—in my opinion—to hold Romney largely responsible for his firm’s work. But Obama isn’t saying Romney’s firm shipped jobs overseas, he’s saying Romney shipped jobs overseas