Conservatives are shocked that several of their top presidential candidates are sounding like Occupy Wall Street protesters, attacking Mitt Romney for his experience as a millionaire investor who sometimes had to fire people -- you know, a job creator. While conservatives haven't been able to coalesce around a Not Romney candidate, Politico's Reid J. Epstein and Jim VandeHei point out, the candidates have been able to coalesce around a pitchfork-y Not Romney message. Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul have all attacked Romney's days at Bain Capital, though most offer a little hedge: we're just saying it now before President Obama gets the chance.
Gingrich has offered the harshest attacks on Romney's record, and the super PAC that supports him, Winning Our Future, will air a 28-minute mini-movie charging that Romney was an unethical corporate raider in the 1980s. It's called When Mitt Romney Came to Town. But Gingrich's backers aren't the only ones interested in the Romney-is-the-1-percent film. On Monday, The New York Times' Nicholas Confessore reported that Barry Bennett, who had been a consultant to Perry's super PAC Make Us Great Again, offered the film to the group. They weren't interested. Bennett took it to Our Destiny, the group backing Huntsman. "But officials with the group, Our Destiny, also passed on the film, according to a person with ties to the group," Confessore reported. Now, just a day later, Huntsman's people don't mind being tied to the film, on the record. Fred Davis, an adviser to Our Destiny, told Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel that they turned down the movie only because "we simply saw it too late to seriously consider." Davis predicted it would be as devastating as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was in 2004, with "very well made and powerful stuff."
Even if Perry's pals turned down the movie, Perry has embraced its message. Sounding like an OWS protester in South Carolina Monday, Perry said:
“I had to shake my head yesterday when one of the wealthiest men, I suppose, that’s ever run for the presidency of the United States -- the son of a multimillionaire -- Mitt Romney, he said, ‘I know what it’s like to worry about whether you’re going to get fired... There were a couple of times when I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.' He actually said this. Now, I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips, whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out. Because his company, Bain Capital, with all the jobs that they killed. I’m sure he was worried he’d run out of pink slips.”
Gingrich told reporters in New Hampshire Monday:
"[Romney is] the one who went around ... and said, 'Look, I've had these 20 years' experience.' Fine. Now let's talk about the 20 years' experience. ... What you have to raise questions about is somebody goes out, invests a certain amount of money, say $30 million; takes out -- and I'll say, 180 million: 6-to-1 return. And then the company goes bankrupt. And you have to ask a question: Is that really what -- is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of other people and walk off with the money or is that in fact somehow a little bit of a flawed system?"
And Huntsman told reporters in New Hampshire Monday:
"I will always put my country first. It seems that Governor Romney believes in putting politics first. Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs."
Paul didn't use Romney's name, The New York Times reports, but he told voters:
"The wealth is taken from the middle class and it goes to the select few, who are the insiders."
But! Gingrich and Huntsman hedge a little -- it's not that they're anti-rich, they just want the strongest nominee in November. "If somebody is going to crumble, they better crumble before the nomination," Gingrich said. "You don't want to end up in September with a nominee who has been untested and can't stand it." Huntsman told CNBC Monday night that Romney's firing people remark made him "completely unelectable." He explained, "Words and statements matter and when you are in a heated campaign... I just want to make sure we can get somebody who can go up against Barack Obama and not be chewed up by the political machine that’s going to have a billion dollars to spend on it."
Tuesday morning, USA Today points out, Gingrich told MSNBC that taking Romney's fire-people comment out of context was unfair (though he added, "In debate, do you really want someone who is that clumsy?") And he told Fox News that he wasn't being anti-capitalism, National Journal notes. "I don't think I'm using the language of the left. I'm using the language of classic American populism... Main Street has always been suspicious of Wall Street."
But that probably won't be enough to calm conservatives. Michelle Malkin complained Monday that the Not Romneys had "all gone full Occupier."Republican strategist Mike Murphy tweeted Tuesday, "Saw trailer from Newt's Bolshie film. So misleading and over the top it would make AFL bosses blush." Patrick Griffin, of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, said, "Newt on Morning Joe from "remote location" not on set. Too many capitalists here? On MSNBC???" Big Hollywood's John Nolte wrote, "Had awful nightmare last night where GOP started talking like libs; anti-capitalist class warfare stuff. Awful. Glad it was just a dream." And the National Review's Jim Geraghty laments, "In the End, Any Desperate Politician Will Run on Resentment of the Rich."