Mitt Romney’s campaign sees the time he spent at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded and ran for more than a decade, as a positive experience that highlights his leadership skills and his ability to turn around companies and create jobs....but notes that turning it into a positive presents a serious challenge:
For Mr. Romney’s campaign, the scrutiny of his time at Bain poses a delicate challenge: not only must he defend himself against attacks coming from the president, but he also must try to cast Bain and the lessons he learned there as a testament to his management skills.So how is Mr. Bain doing at explaining why his CEO record qualifies him for the presidency? Here's how he tried to sell it to Mark Halperin:
Halperin: The President says that your experience at Bain Capital will be central in this election. He says it does not qualify you to be a job creator as President. I know you think that working in the private sector in and of itself gives you insight into how the economy works, but what specific skills or policies did you learn at Bain that would help you create an environment where jobs would be created?Not only did Romney fail to answer ... he complained about the question. But Halperin asked again:
Romney: Well that’s a bit of a question like saying, what have you learned in life that would help you lead? My whole life has been learning to lead, from my parents, to my education, to the experience I had in the private sector, to helping run the Olympics, and then of course helping guide a state.
Halperin: I want to ask you to be just a little bit more specific about that, because again, he said this is like the central way he’s going to run this campaign, to focus on your business career. You said you know how to read a balance sheet. There are a lot of people in America who know how to do that. What would make you qualify to be President – again, specific things you’ve learned, things you know, policies that grow out of your experience at Bain Capital that would lead toward job creation.Yet another swing and a miss. As Jonathan Chait pointed out, you don't need to be CEO of Bain Capital to know that the cost of energy is very important to businesses. In fact, President Obama has talked about the importance of energy costs to the economy. Moreover, the cost of energy to businesses isn't the only important part of energy policy. Things like climate change are also important—and those are things that CEOs don't have to spend their time thinking about.
Romney: Well Mark, let’s be a little more specific as to the area you’d like to suggest. Trade policies? Labor policies? Energy policies? Let’s take energy, for instance. I understand that in some industries, the input cost of energy is a major factor in whether an industry is going to locate in the United States or go elsewhere. So, when at Bain Capital, we started a new steel company called Steel Dynamics in Indiana, the cost of energy was a very important factor to the success of that enterprise.
Halperin pressed forward on Bain, giving Romney yet another shot to sell his record:
Halperin: So when the President says he wants to focus a lot of the election and debate on your career at Bain Capital, do you welcome that?Romney didn't even swing at that one. He just moved right into an attack on President Obama. But Halperin still gave him one last chance:
Romney: Well of course, I’d like to also focus on his record. What is it that he’s done as the President of the United States over the last four years? And the American people are interested in, not so much in the history of where I was at Bain Capital, or that I have understanding of the private sector, but instead, has the President made things better for the American people?
Halperin: But you welcome scrutiny of your business record, is that right?Sorry, Mitt: if you're asking the interviewer how to explain why your track record at CEO of Bain Capital qualifies you for the presidency ... then it doesn't.
Romney: Mark, what I can tell you is this. The fact is that I spent twenty five years in the private sector. And that obviously teaches you something that you don’t learn if you haven’t spent any time in the private sector. If you were to say to me, tell me what you learned from your schooling that would help you be a President, it’s like, how do I begin going through a list like that?