Why Romney’s Bain Capital issue is not going away any time soon

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It is looking increasingly likely that Mitt  Romney is consolidating his position as the front runner and the likely  nominee of the Republican side. And while he was the central focus of last  night’s debate with both the Fox News and Wall Street Journal panel and Newt  Gingrich and Rick  Santorum focusing on him, my sense is that he managed to escape unscathed  notwithstanding the fact that virtually all of the tweets were negative, particularly with regard to his record at Bain Capital and especially his  failure to release his income tax.

That notwithstanding, the conservative opposition to  Romney did not coalesce around any candidate or ideas and it is my clear sense that he remains the front runner after the feisty and at times extremely exciting Fox News/Wall Street Journal debate.

Despite the fact that he has only won the Iowa  caucuses by 8 votes and in New Hampshire more than 60% of Republican primary  voters voted for somebody other than the former Massachusetts governor, there is  a clear sense emboldened by yesterday’s announcement of Jon Huntsman’s  withdrawal from the race, that Romney ultimately will be the Republican  nominee. Romney got a huge break this week when his opponents on the  Republican side largely agreed to drop the issue of Bain Capital and Romney’s  performance there as an issue in the primaries.

To be sure, no one was questioning free market capitalism and how it operates. But Romney and  his advisors were able to turn the attacks into a questioning of capitalism by  seemingly conservative Republicans and into a series of attacks on a film made  by Newt Gingrich’s Super PAC, which contained numerous inaccuracies–  inaccuracies that Gingrich has asked his Super PAC to fix but as of yet have yet  to be corrected.

But not withstanding the pushback on the issue, it  is a huge question for the general election.

It is a question for the general election because  the issue of whether Romney was a jobs creator or a jobs killer remains  unclear.

It is an issue for the general election because swing voters, in particular, if it can be shown that  Romney did indeed close down a number of businesses, take out record dividends  through leverage, and saw at least four businesses and a large percentage of  jobs– approaching 1 in 5 at the businesses he took over– ultimately disappear,  whether it was before, during, or after his tenure at Bain Capital.

Put another way, as one of my associates has said,  Romney is unlikely to get off scot free in a campaign where his claim to fame is  that he flipped companies and then flip-flopped on the issues moving from a  Massachusetts moderate, as Newt Gingrich is goading, with liberal positions on  social issues like guns, abortion and health care, to a more traditional  Republican, sympathetic to the Tea  Party.

In practical political terms, the Romney campaign  provides the unique narrative to the Obama campaign, who despite their lack of a  record of accomplishment on the economy, now have a narrative. And that  narrative is that the economy is now slowly improving, they are standing up for  working people versus the rich and powerful, read: the 1%, read: Mitt Romney.  And that they have been stymied at every juncture in trying to develop policies  for the 99% by an intransigent Republican Congress.

To be sure, that in and of itself is not a winning  argument.

With vast majorities of Americans dissatisfied with  Obama’s economic policies and feeling the country is heading in the wrong  direction, there is a very clear sense that America is off on the wrong  track.

What the Obama campaign will do is make the argument  that Romney is simply not the answer. They will argue that by not having created  the 100,000 jobs he said he did, Romney has exaggerated, or even worse, did not  tell the truth.

They will argue that his performance at Bain Capital  represents not pure free market capitalism, but financial manipulation. And that  ultimately, Romney is on the side of the wealthy and the powerful, supporting  policies that are inimical to working people.

And what’s worse, they will say, you can’t trust him  to stand for anything. His flip-flops on the issues are so substantial that you  really don’t know what he stands for, and who he really is.

What Obama will try to do with all of this is to  fight Romney to a draw, with independent swing voters in the middle and in the  Midwest and Southwest.

Put another way, Obama’s theory is that if they can  fight to an effective draw with voters in the center through these kind of  attacks, they will be able to mobilize their vote– whether it be from liberals,  young people, blacks or Hispanics– in a way that gives them a narrow  victory.

It is not a great strategy, but at least it is a strategy.

Romney’s strategy at this point will be the one he  articulated last Tuesday night when he won the New Hampshire primary. That he is for free markets, he is against regulation and  that he is for opening up a society that President Obama has mismanaged.

Again, in a time of massive dissatisfaction with the  established order and distrust of Washington, it is a reasonable  strategy.

The big change now is that the president has, for  the first time, developed a counter that, however cynical it may be, could well  counter Romney’s attacks.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist and Fox News contributor. His most recent book is “Mad as  Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System” published by  Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.

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