GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, shown at a campaign appearance… (Chris Keane / Reuters )
Submitting to questioning on a Sunday news show interview for the first time in nearly two years, Mitt Romney skewered President Obama’s leadership style and defended his own work for a leveraged buyout firm, insisting that he was ready to handle any Gordon Gekko-style attacks that the Democrats might send his way in the general election.
In a change in tone from earlier this week, the former Massachusetts governor dealt gently with his GOP rivals, including the current front-runner, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Instead, during his appearance on "Fox News Sunday," he centered his criticism on Obama, charging -- as he often does on the campaign trail -- that the president’s policies have hurt rather than helped the fragile recovery: “His great failing is that he does not understand how this economy works,” Romney said. “I do know how this economy works, and my policies are designed to get people what they desperately want.”
Romney, who repeatedly said he was in the race to help middle-class Americans, said he was prepared for Obama to use his private sector work to paint him as a “fat cat” and a greedy creature of Wall Street: “Of course he will, in part because he’s been the great divider,” he told host Chris Wallace. “This is a president who goes after anybody who is successful. And by the way, he’s pretty successful too. He’s done very, very well over the past several years.”
Wallace zeroed in on what Democrats view as Romney’s chief vulnerability -- his work for the private equity firm Bain Capital. Romney has come under fire from Gingrich and from Democrats for Bain’s efforts to make the companies they acquired more profitable, sometimes by slashing the jobs of thousands of workers and driving companies deep into debt.
Romney put a glossy spin on his work at Bain, a firm that he co-founded and ran for 15 years, asserting that his intent in every case was “to either help people realize their dreams by starting a business or taking a business that was failing or underperforming and make it more successful.”
“My business was not buying things, taking them apart, closing them down,” he said, “my business was associated with trying to make enterprises more successful. Not always was I able to succeed, but in each case we tried to grow an enterprise.”
As the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month, Wallace noted that four of the 10 top dollar investments by Bain under Romney’s leadership went bankrupt, “It’s the downside, it's the reality of what life is like in the private sector,” Romney responded.
If he succeeds in landing the Republican presidential nomination, Romney said he expected there would be “every effort to put free enterprise on trial.” Previewing an argument that he would likely use against Obama, Romney noted that when the federal government bailed out General Motors and Chrysler, layoffs occurred and factories were closed. While Obama didn’t directly make those changes, Romney said, “his people did.”
“Why did he do that? Because he wanted to save the enterprise,” Romney said. “A profit in enterprise is essential to keep it alive and to keep people employed.”
The Obama administration has credited the auto bailouts with saving more than a million jobs.
During a brief discussion of foreign policy, Romney also criticized the president’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of this year. "We're going to find that this president, by not putting in place a status-of-forces agreement with the Iraqi leadership, has pulled our troops out in a precipitous way and we should have left 10-, 20-, 30-thousand personnel there to help transition to the Iraqi's own military capabilities,” he said.
He would not say whether in hindsight, he would have made the same decision that President George W. Bush made to invade Iraq.