Romney Launches Mitt 3.0
On Thursday, Mitt Romney used a New Hampshire backdrop to announce his second run for the White House. If nothing else, Romney's candidacy is a boon for fans of metaphors. With more personalities than Sybil, Romney is a political Zelig, a man desperately trying to transform himself into whatever he believes voters want at that time and place. (Or call it the Romney Uncertainty Principle; Mitt's position changes when observed.) Now, after his past incarnations as the Massachusetts moderate and a crusading social conservative, Romney has morphed into Mitt 3.0. This time, he wants to be America's Second MBA President. Given his own dismal job creation record, Romney offers Americans little more than the first.
Declaring that "Barack Obama as failed America," the former venture capitalist claimed that the United States is "only inches away" from abandoning capitalism. In his third incarnation in five years, Romney, an adviser insisted, "From a lifetime spent in the private sector, has the skills and the ability to lead an economic turnaround."
Of course, Romney first needs to complete his own turnaround.
Mitt v1.0 was born during his failed 1994 run for the Senate against Ted Kennedy and continued with his successful 2002 gubernatorial bid. As the Boston Globe first reported on January 11, 2007, Romney rejected the Reagan mantle during his failed 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy. Desperate to compete in pro-choice Massachusetts, Romney was not content to declare, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country." As this YouTube video shows, years before he claimed Reagan's mantle, Mitt made it clear he wanted nothing to do with the Reagan-Bush years:
"I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush; I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush. My positions don't talk about the things you suggest they talk about; this isn't a political issue."
Abortion, however, was a very political issue. And Mitt's tortured flip-flops on women's reproductive rights marked his devolution from version 1.0 to Mitt 2.0.
Hoping to appease progressive voters in Massachusetts wary of his pro-life Mormon past, Romney declared "I believe women should have the right to make their own choice." Romney and his wife went so far as to attend a Planned Parenthood fundraising house party in 1994. Romney successfully defused the issue in his 2002 race against Democrat Shannon O'Brien by promising to avoid changing the status quo in the Commonwealth:
"I promised that if elected, I'd call a truce - a moratorium, if you will...I vowed to veto any legislation that sought to change the existing rules...I fully respect and will fully protect a woman's right to choose."
Those gymnastics on reproductive rights may have worked with socially liberal, suburban voters in 2002, but they offered a recipe for disaster with the Christian Coalition's so-called "values-voters" in the 2008 GOP primaries. Predictably, Romney began his sharp right turn. By the fall of 2005, Romney flip-flopped again on abortion, claiming that his position has "evolved" and that "my political philosophy is pro-life." By the spring of 2006, his spokeswoman Julie Teer laid out Romney's position of a proposed South Dakota abortion ban:
"If Gov. Romney were the governor of South Dakota he would sign it. The governor believes that states should have the right to be pro-life if that is the will of the people."
It's no wonder that in 2005, Romney advisor Michael Murphy said of Mitt that "he's been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly."
On immigration, too, Mitt Romney suffered the slings and arrows of his own outrageous fortune. As it turns out, before he attacked GOP rival Rudy Giuliani before being soft on immigration, Romney himself provided aid and comfort for illegal alien workers at his posh Belmont, Massachusetts estate.
Romney campaigns ads tried to paint Giuliani as weak on illegal immigration during his time as New York mayor. After a voice-over intones "Immigration laws don't work if they're ignored," Romney chimes in:
"Legal immigration is great. But illegal immigration, that we've got to end. And amnesty is not the way to do it."
But as the Boston Globe reported in December 2006, Romney hired a landscaping firm that routinely utilized illegal alien workers to tend to his 2-1/2 acre family residence just outside of Boston. The firm also tended to the grounds of his one of his five sons, Taggart. The Globe team interviewed four undocumented workers in Guatemala who confirmed that Romney never asked for them or their employer to produce immigration papers.
Confronted by Globe reporters, Romney offered a Romneyesque response:
Asked by a reporter yesterday about his use of Community Lawn Service with a Heart, Romney, who was hosting the Republican Governors Association conference in Miami, said, "Aw, geez," and walked away.
Ultimately, of course, Republican primary voters rejected the family values version of Mitt Romney. Four years later, Mitt Romney social conservative is dead; long live Mitt 3.0, Business Leader. Sadly for Mitt, the man who claims to know how jobs are created knows much more about how jobs are lost.
Romney's latest reincarnation is hardly unexpected. Engaged with in a suicidal fight with himself over his signature health care achievement in Massachusetts, Mitt 3.0 hopes to use the sluggish economic recovery as his springboard to the White House.
That theme became apparent months ago. Addressing New Hampshire Republicans in March, Governor Romney decried the state of the U.S. economy. "This is the Obama Misery Index, he said, "and it is at a record high. It's going to take more than new rhetoric to put Americans back to work--it's going to take a new president." At CPAC last month, Romney was clear about who that new president should be:
If I decide to run for President, it won't take me two years to wake up to the job crisis threatening America. And I won't be asking Tim Geithner how the economy works-or Larry Summers how to start a business.
If Mitt's line sounds familiar, it should.
Campaigning in Florida three years ago, Romney made the case that his Harvard MBA, his tenure at Bain, his Salt Lake Olympics experience and his stewardship of Massachusetts uniquely qualified him as America's CEO during tough economic times. The multimillionaire venture capitalist told Florida voters:
"I know how America works because I spent my life in the real economy...I won't need a briefing on how the economy works. I've been there. I know how the economy works."
Days earlier, Romney offered the reader's digest version of his resume:
"I've spent my life, 25 years...in the world of business. I know why jobs come and go."
As his record shows, Mitt Romney is all too familiar with why jobs go - out of state, out of the country or just go altogether.
In 1994, Romney's career as a vulture capitalist boomeranged against him in his Senate race against Ted Kennedy. The tale of SCM, a northern Indiana-based stationery company purchased by Ampad, a firm owned by Romney and a group of investors, came to dominate the campaign. As the New York Times recounted, in that instance in the vulture capitalist label was well-earned in the subsequent crackdown on the workers there:
Management has shed 41 of 265 blue-collar jobs, cut wages, tripled some workers' health insurance payments, abolished most of their seniority rights and junked the prior management's union contract, which had two years to run.
Romney's record in Massachusetts also loses some its luster upon closer inspection. While his campaign this week boasted of creating 57,600 jobs during Romney's tenure from 2003 to 2007, Northeastern University economist Andrew Sum pointed out that Massachusetts' performance lagged well behind the national average. As Reuters reported:
"The state lagged the U.S. average during that period in job creation, economic growth and wage increases.
As a strict labor market economist looking at the record, Massachusetts did very poorly during the Romney years, he [Sum] said. "On every measure you've got, the state was a substantial under-performer."
As ThinkProgress reminded voters today, "Massachusetts, which Romney governed from 2003-2007, ranked 47th among the 50 states in job creation numbers during his tenure." Romney's job creation record in Massachusetts was merely "one of the worst in the country," the DNC helpfully pointed out in March, "Romney's private sector career consisted of profiting off of laying off thousands of workers."
Earlier this year, the New York Post, surely no friend of Democrats documented Mitt Romney's career as a vulture capitalist. As John Kosman detailed, Romney didn't merely produce a "spotty jobs record" when he ran Bain Capital. During a time when he retained a controlling stake, his company reaped huge paydays on investments in firms that later went belly up.
For example, the leveraged buyout of medical testing company Dade Behring by Bain and Goldman Sachs in 1994 was followed eight years later by Dade's failure in 2002. But not until Bain Capital had extracted a rich reward:
Bain reduced Dade's research and development spending to 6 to 7 percent of sales, while its peers allocated between 10 and 15 percent. Dade in June 1999 used the savings as part of the basis to borrow $421 million. Dade then turned around and used $365 million from the loan to buy shares from its owners, giving them a 4.3 times return on their investment.
Bain's slash and burn business model didn't end there. As Kosman explained in the Post:
Bain in 1988 put $5 million down to buy Stage Stores, and in the mid-'90s took it public, collecting $100 million from stock offerings. Stage filed for bankruptcy in 2000.
Bain in 1992 bought American Pad & Paper (AMPAD), investing $5 million, and collected $100 million from dividends. The business filed for bankruptcy in 2000.
Bain in 1993 invested $60 million when buying GS Industries, and received $65 million from dividends. GS filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
Bain in 1997 invested $46 million when buying Details, and made $93 million from stock offerings. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2003.
Of course, Romney's tenure at Bain also produced some big wins - and job gains - at firms like Staples and Domino's Pizza. But as it turns out, Romney's old employer was also creating jobs in Iran.
That revelation came to light four years ago in the run up to Romney's failed 2008 bid for the Republican nomination. His pathetic 24-hour crusade for disinvestment from Iran lasted just as long as it took the press to uncover Bain's business connections with Tehran.
Following the lead of once and future Israeli Prime Minister (and one-time colleague at Boston Consulting Group) Benjamin Netanyahu, Romney began his grandstanding on Iranian disinvestment by targeting the Democratic-controlled states of New York and Massachusetts. On February 22, 2007, Romney sent letters to then New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton as well as state comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli urging a policy of "strategic disinvestment from companies linked to the Iranian regime."
As it turns out, scrutiny begins at home. As the AP detailed, Romney's former employer (Bain and Co.) and the company he founded (Bain Capital) had links to very recent Iranian business deals. Caught flat-footed by his hypocrisy that took the AP less than a day to uncover, Romney feebly responded that his crusade didn't apply to him:
"This is something for now-forward. I wouldn't begin to say that people who, in the past, have been doing business with Iran, are subject to the same scrutiny as that which is going on from a prospective basis."
As Chuck Todd and his NBC News colleagues suggested this spring, the "now-forward" Romney 3.0 launched this weekend in New Hampshire looks a lot like the buggy 1.0 version. After his flip-flopping failure as a hard right social conservative in 2008 and comic retreat from his real accomplishment on health care, Mitt Romney is returning to his political roots as a proven business leader. Sadly for Romney's Mitt 3.0 persona, Americans have already seen this picture and already know how it ends.
Mitt Romney may want to be the Second MBA President. But Americans still haven't recovered from the first one, George W. Bush. Put another, what Mitt 3.0 considers to be a feature, Americans see as a bug.