Opinion Brief

Will Obama's attacks on Bain Capital backfire?

The president is taking a lot of heat for his campaign's assault on the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney, and even some Democratic allies are uneasy

This week, President Obama doubled down on his criticism of Bain Capital, the private equity fund formerly headed by Mitt Romney, saying the firm is fair game because Romney touts his stewardship there as a central credential for the White House. "This is not a distraction," Obama said. "This is what this campaign is going to be about." Prominent Obama allies — including Newark Mayor Cory Booker and auto bailout czar Steven Rattner — have criticized the line of attack, which comes in the form of two hard-hitting ads featuring companies that failed under Bain's ownership. Indeed, Obama is facing a "mutiny" from Democrats, says Politico, many of whom are concerned that Obama will suffer for maligning the rough-and-tumble world of capitalism. Will the Bain attacks backfire?

Yes. The attacks pit Obama against capitalism: "Forty years ago, corporate America was bloated, sluggish, and losing ground" to international competitors, says David Brooks at The New York Times. Firms like Bain launched a turnaround that led American businesses to become "leaner, quicker, and more efficient," even if the process was "brutal and involved streamlining and layoffs." Obama's misleading attacks on Bain bafflingly argue that this transformation was not beneficial, and problematically place Obama firmly in the "ancient past." Democrats are right to worry."How change happens"

No. Hitting Bain resonates with voters: The campaign against Bain "opens Obama to the charge that he is waging an attack on 'free enterprise,'" but other candidates have done just fine targeting Romney's corporate record, says Jamelle Bouie at The Washington Post. Newt Gingrich excoriated Bain for making profits even when the businesses it owned went under, and that resonated with voters "who don't begrudge the wealthy but are angered that someone could take huge risks, fail, and walk away with profit." That's the type of rigged capitalism that fuels popular animosity toward unsuccessful CEOs who earn multi-million-dollar bonuses, and Wall Street firms that received huge bailouts after making risky bets. "What the Obama campaign can learn from Newt Gingrich"

Plus, Obama is smartly avoiding his own record: Obama's attacks on Bain might be a "shameless exaggeration," but they're also a "brilliant political pivot," says Peter Morici at Fox News. "Instead of running on his record," which is hampered by the lackluster economy, Obama is "making character the issue," drawing a brilliant contrast between "his public career and Mr. Romney's private pursuit of profit," which allows him to characterize Romney as "buying, borrowing, and burying jobs to get rich." And every time the discussion turns to Bain, Romney cannot lay out his own vision for creating jobs as president. "Forget Cory Booker, Obama's Bain Capital ad was a brilliant pivot"

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