Mitt Romney has been quick to point out that he is not just another political lifer who knows nothing about life outside the Beltway. He’s not somebody who has spent his life far away from the realities of balance sheets and real-life decision-making. Instead, he actually has spent the bulk of his working life in the private sector—and that, he says, makes him a better choice for president than the incumbent.
Fair enough, although it’s hardly an original pitch. His father, after all, sought the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 1968 not because he was such a success as governor of Michigan, but because he was a highly successful auto executive. Other presidential campaigns featured private-sector hotshots who honed their chief executive skills far from the halls of Congress. Ross Perot sought the presidency in 1992 based on his knowledge of the economy, not of politics (that gap in knowledge did him no favors). Wendell Willkie challenged Franklin Roosevelt’s bid for a third term despite never holding public office—Willkie was the president of Commonwealth & Southern, a utilities company, when he emerged as the Republican presidential candidate in 1940.
When candidates like Mr. Romney base their campaigns in part—in large part, in Mr. Romney’s case—on their supposed success in the private sector, then their performance rightly becomes part of the public record in a political campaign. So does the performance of the private-sector entities they led or helped to lead.
It’s not quite clear that Mr. Romney understands this. President Obama’s campaign has conducted a relentless assault against Bain Capital, the private-equity firm that Mr. Romney led after his tenure as governor of Massachusetts. The president and his team accuse Bain of stripping down American companies and shipping jobs overseas. Mr. Romney’s response: He demanded that the president apologize.
He really has to do better than that.
Mr. Romney is, at this point, a veteran of political combat at the national level. He did a good job taking apart the records of his Republican opponents during last winter’s primaries. He should understand by now that attacks are part of how we conduct campaigns, and that sometimes attacks will be unfair.
Rather than ask for apologies, Mr. Romney should be pointing out that Mr. Obama’s record should encourage nobody to think of him as a job creator. And he should conduct a vigorous defense of Bain and, by implication, of the creativity of the free market that he claims to represent.
Mr. Romney’s experience at Bain offered him an insight into the new economics of the global marketplace. That insight, he should argue, gives him a huge advantage over a man who, just eight years ago, was just another state senator in Illinois.
Mr. Romney does himself no favors by whining about the president’s attacks. He needs to be tougher, and smarter, than that.