I’ll be very interested in tonight’s GOP presidential debate, in part to see if Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry go after Mitt Romney based on his association with Bain Capital. I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to avoid the topic (Gingrich did during his appearances in South Carolina on Sunday). Why? Because it’s clear the attacks on Bain — which conservatives rightly understood as an assault on enterprise and democratic capitalism — backfired badly on both men. They’ve been pounded by non-RINOs like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Michelle Malkin, James Taranto, Charles Murray, Mark Steyn, National Review, Club for Growth, and many more.
The tack taken by Gingrich and Perry qualifies as one of the more inexplicable campaign decisions I can recall; the product, if one wants to be generous, of desperation. (The “King of Bain” video may be the most comical piece of campaign propaganda I have ever seen, something you’d expect from a person with Michael Moore’s views and one-tenth of his talent. It has been utterly destroyed by fact checkers.)
Whatever animated the attacks, they appear to have helped Governor Romney, who is rising in the polls both nationally and in South Carolina. And InsiderAdvantage poll released last night, for example, finds Romney with the support of 32 percent of likely GOP voters surveyed, a nine-point gain from its last poll, taken on January 11. “The only candidate to really gain any ground in this survey since our poll of last Wednesday night is Mitt Romney,” said InsiderAdvantage chief pollster Matt Towery to Newsmax.
Romney, having been bequeathed this unexpected gift by Gingrich and Perry, should take advantage of it. I for one would be delighted to hear a leading Republican (outside of Representative Paul Ryan) make a powerful moral defense of democratic capitalism, to explain how it has lifted more people from poverty and destitution than any other economic system in human history, and why wealth creation is a moral good. The tendency in a campaign is to lay out a series of policy proposals, which are certainly important, but not to ground those policies in a political philosophy, which is equally important.
I’ve always thought that voters, even (and maybe especially) in the midst of a primary campaign, appreciate public figures who take the time and care to articulate a public philosophy. Not all the time, of course, but from time to time. It it what Ronald Reagan did supremely well and helps explain why he reshaped the conservative movement and American politics in such deep and lasting ways.
Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, having last week unleashed an extraordinary attack on capitalism, have now provided an opening to Romney (and Rick Santorum, as I argued last week). There’s every reason in the world for conservatives to defend and champion democratic capitalism, not superficially but in depth, in a manner that is both intellectually serious and touches the human heart. It actually can be done — see Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for more — and I hope someone in the current GOP field dares to try.