TOPICS > Politics

Shields and Brooks on Romney Taking Heat, Ron Paul’s Vision, Obama’s Fundraising

January 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week's top political news, including the state of the GOP campaign, the effectiveness of Mitt Romney's defense of his record at Bain Capital, Ron Paul's young supporters, campaign financing and President Obama's re-election warchest.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen. It’s good to see you both.

David, three days after Mitt Romney won New Hampshire, what shape is he in? He’s been taking some heat on his former business career. How is he doing?

DAVID BROOKS: He’s been taking some heat, and he hasn’t been doing particularly well. He’s been taking heat on the one issue that I do think he is actually vulnerable on, and that’s Bain Capital. And I don’t say that on the merits. I think, in general, Bain Capital and private equity in general do a lot more good for he economy than they do harm.

Nonetheless, A., there’s the political perception. If ever Wall Street and financial guys are out of favor, this is the moment. And, B., he has not been particularly good at responding. He hasn’t told a very good and swift story about what Bain did and how it turned people around.

He’s had some, I think, overly broad rebuttals: If you attack Bain, if you attack LBOs, you’re attacking capitalism.

I think [Mitt Romney] needs to give a Jeremiah Wright speech. I'm not sure this is as serious yet, but it could be.David Brooks, The New York Times

Well, that’s not true. There’s good capitalism and there’s bad capitalism. And he should really have a story to tell about: what we did.

And then people just may just not think he’s our kind of capitalist. They might like the capitalists who builds a company, who loves a product, a Steve Jobs kind of guy, who you know where he lives. But the LBO guys are moving from company to company.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Leveraged buyout.

DAVID BROOKS: The leveraged buyout people. And so they’re — you might just make people feel uncomfortable.

So I think this whole issue, this whole Bain issue, while I think he’s right on the merits, is a political vulnerability.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, does that mean Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have been successful, done a good job of going after him on this?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know if they have exploited it, Judy, but there certainly is a real problem here.

And, historically, the two parties have been products and prisoners of stereotypes, the Democrats because they have been the party historically of the downtrodden, down with the rabble, perhaps the not totally civilized people, have delighted in nominating candidates for president who are well-born, who came from breeding, Franklin Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, Jack Kennedy.

Republicans, being the party of the well-born and well-off and being seen that way, like to nominate candidates who come from humble origins, whether it’s Dwight Eisenhower, or Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan.

Mitt Romney would be the wealthiest candidate ever in the history of this country if he’s nominated by the Republican Party. And he made his money himself, but he made it in a way that Americans don’t understand. I mean, there’s no face of private equity, other than private helicopters and private villas on the beach. That’s the one side of it, and then company towns with working families who have been — lost their jobs.

And the story has never been explained to people why this is a good thing, and especially he’s made it his credential to run for president. This is a man who was governor of a blue state who governed effectively with a legislature of the other party. He doesn’t use that credential.

He’s used the credential of, I’m a business guy, and, therefore, this is open — I agree with David. He has not been agile and he’s not been convincing in the ways he’s handled it and tried to say, oh, it’s an attack of envy or it’s an attack on the capitalistic system. That is not the response. He has to answer it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But he’s running these ads now. We showed a clip of one of them, David. He is fighting back.

Could these attacks by other Republicans, though, be doing him a favor by getting him in the practice of defending what he did?

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

I think he needs to give a Jeremiah Wright speech. I’m not sure this is as serious yet, but it could be. It’s clearly the chief vulnerability. The White House, or the Obama campaign has already issued a four-page memo sort of jumping on the criticism. And so I think he needs to give a speech and say, this is what I did. This is why it was valuable for the country.

And, as I say, the studies show that when these private equity firms come in, in general, what they do is, they do fire people when they take over a firm. But then, over the long run, because they have improved the health — and they have every incentive to improve the health of a company — they do tend to increase employment in the long term.

There are some cases, though, where they just pile on the debt and then they take out the dividends. So there is some bad behavior in that industry. But he needs to really lay it out over a lengthy period of time, and people will accept it or not.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Can he turn it into a positive, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think it’s — well, I don’t see it as a positive. He’s a long way from doing that, Judy.

I mean, they doubled the return of their investors. I mean, Bain has been enormously successful. But David’s right. There were cases where they did take dividends and big management fees for companies that eventually did go under.

And I think this is a — this is a real problem for him and for Republicans in particular. I mean, this is not a year you want to be seen as one of the 1 percent. And it’s going to put greater pressure on him, on his tax returns, which he has been reluctant to reveal.

And I think it’s going to show that he probably paid taxes and carried interest rate that private equity people — which is 15 percent, which means he, a multimillionaire of really remarkable dimensions, paid taxes at a lower rate than a steelworker or a schoolteacher or a firefighter. And I think that’s, again, complicating.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because it’s a different rating. It’s a different tax rate.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. It’s a different tax rate, just the same as Warren Buffett pays.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the defense that he created 100,000 jobs is not — you’re saying that’s not going to fly?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don’t really think that number is solid, all these — “I created this many jobs,” all those numbers are bogus for every candidate.

But the sense that his company and his deals did do good on net, I think that’s a pretty strong case. Of course he had failures at — those are failures. What the companies do, do is create — and they do create creative destruction, and there are real losers in these cases.

And he has got to explain his feelings about that and his feelings about the eventual gain. He’s got to really lay himself out there. I should say, though, I think it’s a vulnerability. I’m not positive about that. I’m actually going to go to South Carolina tomorrow to ask as many voters as I can, what do you think of Bain?

Because I’m — we can impute to people the view that they really don’t like financiers and private equity people, but it’s not clear so far from the polling. And it’s also not clear from the other Republican candidates, who today seemed to be backing off some of this stuff. And so maybe they found it’s just not as fertile ground as maybe some of us think.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re saying not a positive among Republican voters in this primary?

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Right.

And then you go to the fall. But, again, I was struck. The White House, as I mentioned, the Obama campaign, Stephanie Cutter, one of the people there, sent out a four-page memorandum. I thought it was very — a very moderate thing compared to what Gingrich was unleashing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We showed a clip of it.

And for the Obama campaign, it’s obviously going to be a big issue in the fall. But they do not want to seem anti-business either. They have got the downside potential as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, meanwhile, Mark, a group of social conservatives, evangelicals, are putting together a meeting together in Texas this weekend. And we’re told what they’re doing is looking for a conservative alternative to Romney. What…

MARK SHIELDS: Did anybody show them the calender, Judy?

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: You’re a candidate, okay? And you have been at the rotary club shaking hands in Keokuk, Iowa. You have been at the hardware store in Dixville Notch, N.H.

And now some people at a comfortable ranch in Texas are going to decide? No, no, David, you’re not going to run. Judy, you’re going to run.

I’m sorry, it’s a little late in the ball game to be playing kingmaker. And it’s very unseemly after all these candidates have run and have put everything on the line. And they missed what happened in 2008. Did they not learn anything from South Carolina, when Fred Thompson’s entry cost Mike Huckabee winning South Carolina, and John McCain won South Carolina and Florida the following week and won the nomination with it?

I don’t understand whom they think they’re…

DAVID BROOKS: This is why Oliver Stone and Ron Paul are wrong about everything, because elites are never smart enough to run a conspiracy. These backroom deals, they’re always too stupid to do it, to pull it off.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But if it so late, David, why are they doing it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they have a dream that — every — all the candidates have a dream.

The dream is, it’s going to be me and Romney one on one. But they all have the same dream, so none of them are getting out. And so they’re all waiting for the other people to say, okay, you can be the one-on-one guy. And so none of them want to get out.

Presumably, after — probably not even after South Carolina, maybe after Florida, they’ll start dropping out. Then it could be too late, could well be too late.

MARK SHIELDS: There’s only one candidate, other than Mitt Romney, who increased his vote from — between Iowa and New Hampshire, Ron Paul. And as long as Ron Paul is in the race, just say Ron Paul gets 20, 25 percent, which is about what he gets, and Mitt Romney gets 35 percent, okay, or 36 percent, that’s 60 percent of the vote.

That leaves 40 percent for Perry, Santorum, Gingrich, Huntsman, you name it, to fight over. I mean, is one of them going to get 36? I don’t think so. So the arithmetic just doesn’t work. They can’t get by Ron Paul to get one-on-one with Mitt Romney.

DAVID BROOKS: The Paul thing is crucial. Even if you look at the latest polls in South Carolina, you see Santorum coming down a bit, and that vote is going to Ron Paul, which crosses our ideological categories. But Ron Paul is this authentic thing. He has got great Web ads.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re surprised by that?

DAVID BROOKS: I am a little. I mean I give him credit.

Charles Krauthammer wrote about this in a column in The Washington Post today. He believes in his cause. He’s totally committed to the cause. And he’s got a long-term vision. And it’s quite attractive. It’s attractive to young people. You know, there’s Web ads. They’re growing up spontaneously online. It’s like Obama. There’s a similar sort of fervor. It’s is not as big, but it’s — it echoes that.

MARK SHIELDS: In New Hampshire, all the young people, that was the campaign. At his phone bank, there were veterans making the phone calls.

I mean it was really an impressive, energetic, energized — not that the others didn’t have good efforts, and they did. But, I mean, the Paul thing was distinguished by the youth that David’s mentioned.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Interesting, because, as we reported, he took the second day in a row off the campaign trail today.

MARK SHIELDS: He did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Maybe that’s what works in your favor. You don’t go out and campaign.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: He didn’t come to New Hampshire until Friday after Iowa.

DAVID BROOKS: He’s not — he’s going to Nevada this weekend, instead of South Carolina.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, money, a question about money.

The Obama campaign announced they have pulled in $68 million in the fourth quarter last year. Mark, that sounds like a lot of money compared to what — I guess, the Romney people took in $24 million in the same…

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: It does sound like a lot of money. It is a lot of money. But it’s not 2008.

2008, Barack Obama had an enormous spending advantage over John McCain. Now, what does that mean? It means that you can then deploy resources to force your opponent to spend his limited funds to defend states like Iowa — like North Carolina and Virginia and Indiana, and instead of spending money, as McCain should have been doing, in Ohio and Florida.

He’s not going to have that kind of advantage, the president is not, because whoever the Republican nominee is, is going to have more than enough funding, so the president — because we’re off of public financing. The campaign is going to be privately financed, and there will be more than adequate funds for the Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you agree with that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, I’m a skeptic about money in politics anyway at the presidential level.

I think once there are hundreds of millions of dollars floating around, each marginal hundred million dollars doesn’t really make a difference. So, I think both campaigns will be completely well-financed and money will not decide a presidential election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And one won’t have a huge advantage…

DAVID BROOKS: No.

Obama had a huge advantage. And in their campaign’s view last time, they wouldn’t have won North Carolina and Indiana without that huge financial — I’m even dubious about that. But they think it helped them marginally.

But it’s hard — in local elections, a big money gap can make a huge difference. But, in a national election, with all this free media, I’m dubious.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we’re not dubious about the two of you. We’re just delighted to have you here every Friday, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you very much.