Under attack from President Obama's re-election campaign, Mitt Romney has been forced to defend and clarify his tenure at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded. This weekend, a top aide, Ed Gillespie, claimed that Romney "retroactively retired" from Bain in 1999, even though SEC documents show that Romney was the CEO of Bain through 2002. Romney's departure date is considered important because Bain, which made huge profits buying out other companies, has been accused of forcing its properties to lay off workers and outsource jobs between 1999 and 2002. Romney claims he made no day-to-day decisions at Bain after 1999, but new reports continue to surface suggesting that Romney did indeed maintain ties to the company. Here, 4 takeaways from Romney's efforts to defuse this increasingly compromising issue:
1. Romney has failed to put the issue behind him
Gillespie "didn't do his boss any favors," says Caroline Bankoff at New York. The claim that Romney "retroactively retired" is a "laugher, even by Washington standards," says Democratic strategist Bill Buck at CBS Boston. Gillespie's unique phrasing, which suggests that Romney is "taking advantage of some kind of loophole in the space-time continuum," will hardly quell the insistent questions about his departure date, says Steve Benen at The Maddow Blog.
2. Romney is coming off as slippery
"Retroactive" may technically be the "correct way to characterize Romney's retirement," since the campaign claims that his involvement in the 1999 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics evolved from a temporary leave of absence to a full-time job, says Steve Kornacki at Salon. But politically, the phrase is "slippery and comically legalistic, sort of like Bill Clinton expounding on the meaning of the word 'is,' or John Kerry explaining how he 'actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.'" The line "could encourage casual voters who know little or nothing of the Bain story to assume that Romney is trying to cover his tracks for something embarrassing."
3. Romney supported outsourcing before 1999
Bain was a pioneer in the outsourcing trend well before 1999, says Alec MacGillis at The New Republic. The layoffs and actual outsourcing may have occurred after his "retroactive" departure, but "for many of the investments in question the line traces very definitely to the pre-'99 period." Indeed, Bain invested "heavily in firms that did not simply send some jobs overseas but specialized in offshoring." In this respect, it really doesn't matter whether Romney left Bain in 1999 or 2002.
4. Romney must take responsibility for Bain
Romney should acknowledge that "Bain was in the business of making companies more efficient and profitable," which sometimes necessarily led to downsizing and outsourcing, says David Frum at CNN. It may not be pretty, but "it's precisely the relentless search for profitability that causes economies to grow in the first place." It's an argument that "is not only convincing but has the additional merit of being true," and it's certainly better than letting Gillespie and other aides blast his "own side with lethal friendly fire."