For a first post back, I’d like to revisit a subject that I missed during my self-imposed exile: Newt Gingrich’s decision to try to flank Mitt Romney from the left as well as the right, but taking a few compelling shots at the latter’s business record. If this is something from which we’ve all moved on, I do apologize: as always, I’ll try to add something new.
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Recent events in this year’s rapidly closing primary season showed erstwhile Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich at his level best, creating new campaign themes design to sever, with a surgeon’s precision, a candidate from his independent, middle-class, “real-America” support. The problem: this time, Gingrich’s focus was a fellow Republican, Mitt Romney, and the type of bare-knuckle capitalism he made famous, leading to charges that the fiery speaker was “attacking capitalism” itself. This is an overreaction, but a justified one.
The Gingrich argument — that Romney’s past with the corporate raider firm Bain Capital shows a candidate who’s not just comically out of touch, but in fact made his fortune shuttering the kinds of firms that employ average citizens — is not about capitalism. It’s about Romney’s electability, and the many ways his candidacy fails to resonate with those elements of the 99% that comprise the Republicans’ post-Reagan power base. But it raises deeper questions, and Republicans are right to worry, because the Bain argument appears to show a chink in the larger party’s rhetorical front.
Since the beginning of Obama’s term, Republicans have endeavored to present a unified line of battle when defending corporate interests, large and small alike: that’s why, in the hands of John Boehner and congressional Republicans, the regulation of highly volatile, irresponsibly-traded derivatives becomes an existential threat to the free market, and a danger to small business job creation, when in fact it’s no such thing. The result is a political landscape where one is either entirely for the unregulated free market — with all of its excesses — or by opposing one portion of it, entirely against it.
This line makes sense as long as Republicans stay on one side, and Democrats the other. But Gingrich’s attempt to invoke Bain to damage Romney compromises the Manichean simplicity of their argument. If parts of capitalism are flawed, or work against middle-class interests, maybe other parts need fixing too. And if so, does it still make sense to say that all regulations kill jobs? This is the proverbial flank which, when weakened, compromises the integrity of the entire army. Think of von Kluck’s right flank, turned at the first battle of the Marne, to the ruin of Germany’s greater dreams.*
Of course, the Speaker ultimately reversed himself, and gloriously returned himself to the Republican orthodoxy. But the damage is done, and vigilant Democrats should observe the weakness on Romney’s right. If some Republican voters could be turned by Gingrich in such short order, perhaps they could be turned again in the fall.
* – With apologies for the tortured World War I metaphor. I just finished reading Guns of August, and that book is just great.