The Bain Trap – Mitt Romney only has himself to blame – but the Obama campaign has laid it and Romney is now walking straight into it.
The day John McCain lost the 2008 election to Barack Obama (if not before), Mitt Romney knew he was going to run for president in 2012.
And in every race Romney had ever run -- for senator in 1994, for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, and for president in 2008 -- his time at Bain Capital had always been an issue. Indeed, it was Sen. Ted Kennedy’s use of Bain Capital and associated layoffs that ultimately crippled Romney in his attempt to take Kennedy’s Senate seat in 1994.
Therefore, it should have come as no surprise to Romney and his campaign team that Bain Capital would again be an issue in the general election in 2012. They knew the attacks would come, yet it appears they didn’t have a plan -- other than stonewalling -- to deal with them.
The absence of this plan can be seen in Romney’s initial response to a Washington Post article back in June that outlined Bain Capital’s role in outsourcing American jobs, bankrupting companies, and destroying pensions.
Romney argued at the time that he wasn’t with the company when that happened. “Governor Romney left Bain to lead the Salt Lake City Olympics in February 1999,” the campaign argued.
Yet the campaign and Romney himself made this defense knowing full well that there were documents – signed by Romney himself – that stated he was the sole shareholder, Chairman, CEO and President of Bain Capital in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
This political mishandling of Bain set the current trap that the Obama campaign has sprung – and the Romney campaign has no one to blame but itself.
Come November, we may look back on this past week and find this was the week Romney lost the election, or the week that finally woke up his campaign to the reality that they need a better strategy to deal with these attacks.
But his current strategy of stonewalling doesn’t pass the smell test.
Romney now is either the first sole shareholder, chairman, CEO and president of a company in history to claim that he had nothing whatsoever to do with managing that company or he is responsible for the worst practices of Bain.
After all, no one -- not me, not the Obama campaign, not the press -- believes that Romney committed a felony when he signed those SEC filings.
But by denying so forcefully during his five networks appearances on Friday that it was ridiculous and beneath the dignity of the presidency to raise the issue – and by not providing minutes of Bain Board of Directors meetings during the period in question to prove that he wasn’t involved in any decisions made during that time -- Romney has left open to belief exactly what the Obama campaign has been claiming: that Romney was indeed, as those filings suggest, the sole shareholder, CEO, chairman and president of the company through 2002, and is therefore responsible for the layoffs, lost jobs, raided pensions, bankruptcies and outsourcing of jobs overseas that he has denied he had any part in or responsibility for.
To make matters worse, during his 5 network interview blitz on Friday, Romney kept slipping in his defense that he left Bain in February of 1999 the new assertion that “there's nothing wrong with the fact that the firm went on and it was a successful enterprise.”
Actually, there’s quite a bit wrong -- at least politically -- with the fact that the firm went on with Romney as the sole shareholder, CEO, chairman and president until 2002. As Andrew Sullivan wrote over the weekend:
“I wonder when the ad that shows Romney owned a company, Stericycle, that disposed of aborted babies, starts running in evangelical areas. Maybe mid-October... The point is not that Romney actively managed that acquisition; he almost certainly didn't. The point is simply that he was CEO of the company when it did this and was drawing a salary for it. That means he is formally responsible for it.”
Because he won’t release Bain’s Board of Directors meeting minutes – and because he had no other strategy to put this all to rest besides stonewalling– Romney has set a trap for himself and walked right into himself.
And by allowing these questions about his involvement to dominate the news, he has now put in jeopardy the entire underpinning of this campaign: that his Bain experience has prepared him to fix the economy.
It's not too late for Romney to save himself. He can produce the minutes of the Bain Board of Directors Meetings and show that he really wasn’t part of the decision making at the company after February 1999.
Instead, Romney continues to stonewall on Bain as he has stonewalled on releasing his tax returns. And if the last week taught him anything, it should have taught him that stonewalling for the next 114 days isn’t a strategy that will work.