The bombshell report by the Boston Globe that Mitt Romney may have remained in charge of Bain Capital for three years after he claimed to have left has the potential to destroy Romney's credibility.
The issue boils down to statements that, at first glance, appear to directly contradict one another:
- According to statements Bain filed with the SEC, Romney was the "chairman, CEO, and president" of Bain from 1999-2002.
- According to Romney, Romney left Bain in 1999 and had "no input on investments or management of companies after that point."
Beyond determining whether these statements are accurate--or whether Bain misled the SEC or Romney has been misleading the public--the reason this issue is important is that Romney wants to disavow responsibility for anything Bain or Bain companies did after early 1999.
And one of the things that Bain did after early 1999, as Dan Primack of Fortune points out, is invest in a company called Stericycle whose services included the disposal of aborted fetuses.
For obvious reasons, an investment in a company that performed this service might hurt Romney's standing with the right-to-life voters in the Republican party, even though Romney was pro-choice at the time the investment was made.
And Romney also wants to disavow responsibility for many layoffs that Bain engineered after 1999, an issue he has had to deal with since running for Governor.
When the statements above are examined closely, however, it becomes clear that the Romney campaign may be treading a very fine rhetorical line here--one that it believes might allow Romney to dodge both bullets (the accuracy of his public statements and Bain's decisions).
Note that the Romney campaign does not deny that Romney was "chairman, CEO, and president" of Bain from 1999-2002.
What the Romney campaign says instead is that Romney "left" Bain in 1999 and had "no input on investments or management of companies after that point."
So, read to the legal letter, both of those statements may technically be true (or at least defensible).
Romney did leave Bain in 1999, at least for a leave of absence (he went to run the Olympics).
And it is possible that, once he left, he no longer had direct input into investment or management decisions.
As "Chairman, CEO, and President" of Bain, he damn well would have remained responsible for these decisions. In which case, saying he had "left" and implying that he had no involvement or responsibility whatsoever is highly misleading.
The CEO of a car company may not have input into the decision of what specific cars the company makes or where it makes them (though he or she obviously could if s/he wanted), but this CEO is unequivocally responsible for these decisions.
Similarly, if Romney was CEO of Bain at the time it made the Stericycle decision, as well as the company layoffs and other unpleasant facts that Candidate Romney would like to disown, he certainly was responsible for these decisions.
So, enough with walking a fine line rhetorically.
Here are the questions that the Romney campaign needs to answer:
- Was Mitt Romney "chairman, CEO, and President" of Bain from 1999-2002 (even if he had physically "left" and was spending 100% of his time running the Olympics)? If the answer is "yes," then Romney is responsible for what Bain did during that period--full stop.
- Were the filings submitted to the SEC inaccurate?
The answer to those two questions cannot be "both." It's one or the other.
And if the answer is that Mitt Romney was chairman, CEO, and president of Bain for the years in which he has long tried to disavow any responsibility for what the firm did, the American public has every right to feel misled.
Romney's Veep Distraction
Some think it's a deliberate attempt at a distraction from the bad news that piled up on the Romney campaign Thursday. Some think Drudge is floating the trial balloon for the Romney campaign to see how Rice is received.
But Condi Rice could actually be a very smart pick for a number of reasons.
The first is a poll of actual Republicans and Republican-leaning voters (not people on Twitter), conducted by CNN/ORC in April after Romney wrapped up the Republican nomination. Republicans' No. 1 choice? Condi.
Rice outpolled everyone. She out-polled the loud and eccentric Gov. Chris Christie. She out-polled the early favorite, Sen. Marco Rubio. She out-polled Republicans' favorite budget man, Rep. Paul Ryan. And Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, the current frontrunner on Intrade? He received less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote.
Why? Because everyone loves Condi Rice. She has an 80 percent favorability rating in the poll. That's 25 points higher than the next candidate (Christie).
Second, and maybe even more importantly, is the fact that Rice is a known commodity. Voters already know her, and they have decided that they like her. This YouGov poll found that she had the highest name recognition of any candidate other than Sarah Palin. (And no, that's not going to happen again.) Among people that have heard of her, 70 percent view her favorably.
While it's clear that Rice appeals to Republicans, she also could win over moderates and swing voters. For one, she has spoken out harshly against President Barack Obama's stance on immigration. That could help Romney make inroads among Hispanic voters.
Rice has also described herself as "moderately pro-choice." That could help Romney with women. Rice is African-American, and could appeal to some voters Romney tried to lure starting with a speech to the NAACP.
Some or all of these could backfire with the Republican base. Still, if Palin is any barometer for how tea-party types would feel, that's not the case. Here's what she told Greta Van Susteren Thursday night:
"I would certainly prefer a presidential and vice presidential candidate who had that respect for all innocent, precious, purposeful human life, and showed that respect by being a pro-life candidate. We need to remember, though, that it's not the vice president that would legislate abortion, that would be Congress' role, and we will keep that in mind."
It's not really that far-fetched.