Tuesday Reads: Gordon Gekko for President?

Good morning! Today is the New Hampshire primary. We’ll live blog the returns later tonight. As of last night, Gordon Gekko Mitt Romney had a big lead in the polls, with Ron Paul second and John Huntsman and Rick Santorum tied for third place.

Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, holds a 24 percentage point lead over his closest rival, with 41 percent of likely Republican primary voters indicating they’d vote for him, the WMUR New Hampshire Primary Poll said.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul from Texas was favored by 17 percent of likely primary voters, followed by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, each with 11 percent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich collecting 8 percent.

Several polls indicated Gingrich would finish in the top three.

“All of the candidates behind Romney have a good chance finishing anywhere between second and fifth place,” said Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center in Durham.

Yesterday Romney stepped in it again when he told an audience that he really likes firing people.

The final day of campaigning saw Romney under fire for a comment about health insurance that quickly became fodder for criticism.

Asked about the issue in Nashua, New Hampshire, Romney said he wanted a person to be able to own his or her own policy “and perhaps keep it the rest of their life.”

“That means the insurance company will have the incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them,” he said.

“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” Romney added. “If someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I want to say I am going to get somebody else to provide that service to me.”

Romney complained that everyone was taking his remarks out of context, but when you’re a former corporate raider worth $250 million, it’s probably a good idea to watch what you say about putting people out of work.

Anyway, the latest meme about Romney is that he’s Gordon Gekko brought to life. I think it’s a pretty good comparison. I don’t know if you recall the quote from the recent Vanity Fair profile of Romney that I included in a recent post:

Romney described himself as driven by a core economic credo, that capitalism is a form of “creative destruction.” This theory, espoused in the 1940s by the economist Joseph Schumpeter and later touted by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, holds that business must exist in a state of ceaseless revolution. A thriving economy changes from within, Schumpeter wrote in his landmark book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, “incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” But as even the theory’s proponents acknowledged, such destruction could bankrupt companies, upending lives and communities, and raise questions about society’s role in softening some of the harsher consequences.

Romney, for his part, contrasted the capitalistic benefits of creative destruction with what happened in controlled economies, in which jobs might be protected but productivity and competitiveness falters. Far better, Romney wrote in his book No Apology, “for governments to stand aside and allow the creative destruction inherent in a free economy.” He acknowledged that it is “unquestionably stressful—on workers, managers, owners, bankers, suppliers, customers, and the communities that surround the affected businesses.” But it was necessary to rebuild a moribund company and economy.

That sure sounds Gekko-like, doesn’t it?

Yesterday, Rick Klein of ABC News addressed the Romney/Gekko issue.

Virtually all of Romney’s rivals are now sensing a powerful issue. Jon Huntsman said today that the firing comment shows that Romney is “completely out of touch” with the American economy.

Rick Perry, skipping ahead a state, is calling it the “ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina and tell you he feels your pain, because he caused it.”

Gingrich is equating Romney’s business style with finding “clever legal ways to loot a company.” Rick Santorum’s stump speech includes a line about not needing a CEO as president, and he suggested at ABC’s Saturday night debate in New Hampshire that Romney’s background calls into question whether he “can inspire and paint a positive vision for this country.”

Romney hasn’t made matters easier for himself as he’s tried to connect with voters on the economy. The son of a millionaire business titan said over the weekend: “I know what it’s like to worry about whether or not you are going to get fired.”

Klein claims it’s too late for any of this to affect the New Hampshire primary results. I wouldn’t be so sure. New Hampshirites are famous for making up their minds at the last minute. Remember Hillary’s surprise win in 2008?

Romney has been expecting the Gordon Gekko comparisons, so you have to wonder why he hasn’t managed to curb some of these Gekko-like remarks.  I guess he just can’t help himself.

Mitt Romney says he knows a photo in which he appears with other executives at Bain Capital LLC posing with cash in their hands, pockets and mouths will be used against him if he wins the Republican presidential nomination.

The 1980s image — called the “Gordon Gekko” photo by some Democrats, a reference to the Michael Douglas character in the movie “Wall Street” — offers an easy attack line at a time of high unemployment and sharp rhetoric against the nation’s top money managers, investors and bankers.

“We posed for a picture, just celebrating the fact that we had raised a lot of money and then we hoped to be able to return it with a good return,” Romney said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Here’s Romney’s defense of the photo on Fox News Sunday.

Andrew Leonard of Salon also discussed the comparison of Romney with Gekko.

Like Gekko, Romney made his fortune buying and selling companies; and like Gekko, he believes that his “greed is good” version of rough-and-tumble creative destruction is a positive force for America, weeding out the bad performers and nurturing lean-and-mean profit engines. If you are looking for the paradigmatic exemplar of the new style of capitalism mogul launched by the Reagan revolution, Romney is your man. Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko is merely ersatz.

But what Leonard finds so amazing is that this attack on Romney and his leverage buyouts is being led Newt Gingrich.

The shock is to see Newt Gingrich and his financial backers channeling the Oliver Stone critique so passionately and wholeheartedly. If you have not seen the three-minute advertisement “When Romney Came to Town,” the soon-to-be debuted documentary lambasting Romney as the enemy of the American worker, prepare to be flabbergasted.

“Their greed was only matched by their willingness to do anything to make millions in profits.”

“This film is about one such raider and his firm.”

“His mission: To reap massive rewards for himself and his investors.

“Romney took foreign seed money from Latin America, and began a pattern exploiting dozens of American businesses.”

And so on. Michael Moore doesn’t sting this hard, and MoveOn isn’t this angry. If Romney, as expected, ends up winning the Republican nomination, Obama’s campaign team can relax. Their work has already been done.

Here’s the trailer for the 27-minute documentary that Gingrich backers have purchased.


Politico calls it “the Bain Bomb.”

While conservatives look unlikely to unite around one alternative to Romney, the campaigns themselves are uniting around the theme that the former head of Bain Capital looted companies, tossed people out of jobs and is now exaggerating his success at the venture capital firm.

In the context of this moment in American politics, in which frustration with the privileged is boiling hot, the attack, from Republicans on one side and the Obama campaign on the other, will test Romney. If he ends up looking more like an opportunist who profited for the few than like a man who created jobs for the many, it’s hard to imagine his polls numbers won’t drop.

Conservative bloggers, who generally can’t stand Romney have begun defending him against his rivals attacks, and Dana Millback called Romney “the Scrooge McDuck of the 2012 presidential race. Bloomberg reports that buyout firms are getting nervous about damage to their reputations.

This could be fun to watch. I thought Newt’s attack on Romney yesterday was spot on.

Is Romney full of shit or what? He even makes Newt Gingrich look good. I hope Newt sticks around and continues letting it all hang out. Every single word he said about Romney was the truth.

I’m going to wrap this up with a more serious take on Romney from Robert Reich: Mitt: Son of “Citizen’s United.” I had forgotten that Reich ran for governor of Massachusetts in the the Democratic primary in 2002. Please go read the whole thing and try not to weep while you’re doing it.

As Reich says, Romney is the ultimate big money candidate. He was in 2002, and now with the help of the Roberts Court, he has more money than any candidate ever dreamed of before. If you thought Obama was the candidate of Wall Street–and he was in 2008–Romney is soooo much more so. He has money and connections that make Obama’s fundraising look pathetic. And none of this money even needs to be reported–it could be coming from overseas, even from foreign governments, and we’d never know.

Tonight we’ll find out of any of this barrage of Gordon Gekko/Mitt Romney comparisons will have any effect. I’m rooting for Romney to be taken down a peg. And then on to South Carolina!

Please share your links in the comments, and I hope to see you tonight for the live blog.