01/10/2012 06:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Bombing Bain: How Does the Politics of Wall Street Greed Play in the GOP?

There's no little irony in the attacks being leveled on Mitt Romney's adventures in capitalism by fellow Republicans. The Romney crew, and many doctrinaire Republicans in love with market ideology, are reacting with fury to any criticism of capitalism as being strictly out of bounds. A chief irony not yet remarked on is that Stuart Stevens, Romney's chief strategist and media consultant, attacked Romney protege Meg Whitman for her own adventures in capitalism during the 2010 California's governor's race.

For the six years or so in which he has been running for president of the United States, Mitt Romney has been largely allowed by the media and his opponents to position himself as a "venture capitalist." Which sounds very benign, conjuring up as it does visions of what venture capitalists do; i.e., provide seed capital and early capital and guidance for entrepreneurs with promising new products and services.

But, while Romney's Bain Capital did some of that, the reality is that he was more of a leveraged buyout artist, a form of corporate raider who uses the assets of the acquisition target, and sometimes his own firm, as collateral for loans and then finds "efficiencies" within the takeover target to make the deal work for him. There's a lot of asset stripping and plant closings and lay-offs involved in finding those efficiencies. And since the chief beneficiaries -- aside from the holy magic of the market, of course -- of ruthlessly paring away "inefficiency" is Romney and his partners, it looks an awful lot like corporate rapaciousness for personal profit.

The pro-Gingrich super PAC "Winning Our Future" rips Mitt Romney as a corporate raider. This is a trailer for King of Bain: When Mitt Romney Came To Town.

I've always felt that Romney's record makes him terribly vulnerable in any general election scenario. But does it make him vulnerable inside the Republican Party?

In 2010, when Romney's Bain protege, billionaire ex-eBay CEO Meg Whitman ran for governor of California, a race which was Romney's idea, Stevens was on the other side of the fence. He was the media consultant for Whitman's Republican primary opponent, Silicon Valley entrepreneur-turned-state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

Whitman, whose chief strategist, Mike Murphy, is a disgruntled rival of Stuart Stevens in Romney-land, was carpet-bombing California with endless ads, building up a big lead in the Republican primary and threatening then former Governor-turned-Attorney General Jerry Brown -- who of course ended up trouncing Whitman and her biggest spending non-presidential campaign in American history in a landslide -- in the process. She had to be taken down if Poizner was to have a chance at the nomination.

One route was to attack her for her own various adventures in capitalism, especially her lucrative practice of using her inside position as a Goldman Sachs board member to cash in on stock offerings. Which was not illegal, just as what Romney did is not illegal.

So Stevens (he and I both worked on the NBC series Mister Sterling, which was created by former West Wing producer and current MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell) came up with what I think was the best ad of 2010. I would run it here but the ad, which I ran on my Huffington Post piece in May 2010, has since been taken private and is no longer available for you to see. Whitman, now CEO of Hewlett Packard, is a finance co-chair for her old friend Mitt, and it's all one big happy Romney family now.

In something of a comedy of errors, the devastating Poizner ad devised by now Romney strategist Stevens ran for less than a week. I was in regular contact with the Poizner campaign and picked up that there was a skittishness about the ad internally. And the Poizner crew figured that Brown and his Democratic allies were carrying much the same message anyway with their ad.

The California Democratic Party launched its own ad attacking Whitman on her Goldman Sachs shenanigans.

But that ad was heavily lawyered. Because it was not coming from a campaign or an independent expenditure committee, the ad had to be more general along the lines of issue advocacy as opposed to directly attacking a candidate. And it simply was not as good the Poizner ad.

In any event, the Poizner campaign preferred to attack Whitman on illegal immigration. They succeeded in pushing her way over to the right on the issue. And, though they did not know about Whitman having employed an illegal immigrant for years as a top staffer in her household, Poizner's effort set Whitman up perfectly for a devastating blow in the general election.

Billionaire gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who once described herself as a "victim" with regard to the controversies that led to her leaving the Goldman Sachs board, tried to defend her activities to KCAL-TV in Los Angeles.

But while Poizner's anti-Whitman ad was up, it showed how devastating such an intra-party attack could be.

I wrote about it here on the Huffington Post in "'GoldMeg Sachs Whitman' Roils the California Governor's Race" on May 3rd, 2010.

Then Poizner went on the offensive in his debate with Whitman Sunday night at the Tech Museum in San Jose, repeatedly attacking Whitman for her inside dealing tenure on the Goldman Sachs board, which came to an abrupt end after federal regulators and eBay shareholders sued, her backing for the Goldman Sachs bailout, and her prospering from investments in vulture funds (that's what they're called) to profit from the havoc caused by the near meltdown of the global financial system. ...

Here's what Poizner's Goldman Sachs attack ad against Whitman does, as I first revealed on my site, New West Notes, early on Friday morning. Here"s that link.

This new TV ad is running in rotation statewide with a TV ad launched only a few days ago featuring the California conservative icon, Congressman Tom McClintock, in which the face of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger morphs into that of Meg Whitman. McClintock validates Poizner as the conservative standard-bearer in the gubernatorial primary and rips Whitman for backing Wall Street bailouts and "environmental extremism."

In the Goldman Sachs ad, male and female announcers say that while most Californians suffered during the financial crisis (with a Grapes of Wrath-like foreclosed homeowner onscreen), it was "easy money" for Whitman (shown in the famous Fortune magazine cover shot in riding togs with rented horse). The ad charges that Whitman invested in "vulture funds" profiting from California foreclosures.

Citing news reports, the ad declares that Whitman's entire fortune is today intertwined with Goldman Sachs and that she helped manage the bank, receiving stock deals "so unethical they were outlawed."

Whitman, the ad notes, "campaigned for the Goldman bailout" as Whitman is shown onscreen declaring it "the right thing to do." Which was "no surprise" as the bank's executives contributed heavily to Whitman.

The hard-hitting 30-second spot closes with this tag: "Meg Whitman. Bad judgment. Wrong values."

Helped by a variety of factors, only one of which was this line of attack, Poizner roared back from a huge deficit to a near-tie with Whitman. But he ended up getting trounced by Whitman's counter-attacks. It happened that Poizner's record really was that of a moderate Republican, so he was rather easily unmasked as a faux conservative. Well, rather easily by a campaign able to spend unlimited amounts of money, that is.

Throwing down on Bain-style capitalism. Unlike Mitt Romney, who tried to pretend he knew nothing about super PAC attacks on Newt Gingrich, the ex-House speaker is very upfront about leveling the same attacks in person that his aligned super PAC will put on the air.

Are Romney's foes, such as Gingrich, willing to go to the mat on his corporate raider background in a way that the Poizner camp was not with regard to Whitman, who also had out-sourcing problems?

Well, here is what Gingrich said on Monday during an interview, as you can see in the clip above: "They apparently looted the companies, left people unemployed and walked off with millions of dollars. Look, I'm for capitalism, I'm for people who go in to save a company... if somebody comes in takes all the money out of your company, and then leaves you bankrupt while they go off with millions, that's not traditional capitalism."

It sounds like he's all-in.

This should be very interesting.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...

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