NASHUA, N.H. — Mitt Romney is fast becoming the Scrooge McDuck of the 2012 presidential race.
In Disney’s version, McDuck is Donald Duck’s rich uncle, fond of diving into his money bin and swimming through his gold coins. Romney achieved much the same effect years ago when he posed with fellow Bain Capital executives for a photo showing paper money pouring from their pockets and mouths.
But as he stumps through New Hampshire en route to his probable victory Tuesday in the state’s GOP presidential primary, Romney’s riches are bringing him a wealth of trouble.
Speaking at a Chamber of Commerce event at a Radisson hotel here, he was discussing the value of shopping around for health insurance when he turned to the camera, and said, with perverse pleasure, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”
Thus did the likely Republican nominee film, pro bono, one of President Obama’s first reelection ads.
If this weren’t enough evidence that Romney represented the Plutocrat Progress Party, the first questioner confirmed it.
“In this historic election, we need to convince the masses that our vision as conservatives benefits them,” she said. “So my question is: How will you as the nominee get the minds of America behind you?”
At least she didn’t say “unwashed masses.”
Romney didn’t show any concern that the woman had spoken aloud from the plutocrats’ playbook. “That is the question of my campaign, of course,” he said.
The candidate, who last year told a group of unemployed Floridians that “I’m also unemployed,” worried aloud on Sunday that “there were a couple of times I wondered if I was going to get a pink slip” when he worked in the consulting business – an enterprise that helped build his personal wealth to as much as $250 million.
Perhaps realizing that the pink-slip pronouncement was problematic, the owner of multiple homes and horses asserted on Monday that “I started off, actually, at the entry level, coming out of graduate school.”
Newly minted MBAs from Romney’s Harvard can count on making well into the six figures in their “entry-level” jobs at consulting firms.
The entry-level explanation didn’t advance far with Romney’s rivals.
Rick Perry, whose net worth is rather south of Romney’s, responded while touring a restaurant in South Carolina: “Now, I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips — whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out because his company, Bain Capital, with all the jobs that they killed, I’m sure he was worried that he’d run out of pink slips.”
And Newt Gingrich described Bain Capital as a “small group of rich people manipulating the lives of thousands of people and taking all the money.”
Gingrich, however, lives in a glass mansion on this one. He boasts about his $60,000-a-pop speeches and has taken to complaining about food-stamp recipients in his speeches here in New Hampshire.
By the time Romney arrived at his next event on Monday, he was clearly out of sorts. First, he mixed up his own offspring as he made the introductions: “My third son is Ben, who has been missing. He’s a doctor from Utah. He came in last night. Special applause.” After the applause, Romney revised: “What did I say? My third son is coming tonight. Ben is my fourth.”
Romney went on to attempt to explain the value of shopping around for health insurance – this time without mentioning the pleasure he gets from firing people. He likened it to auto insurance. “If you watch on TV, the little animal, little gecko? You see these guys competing hard for your business.”
In the audience, many of the 150 reporters looked at one another and smiled.
The candidate had already treated them to a wealth of blue-blooded phrases during the day, seasoning his speech to the Chamber of Commerce with phrases such as “net-net” and “if you’re in a C-corporation” and “get a pro forma together.”
Net-net, nothing says “common man” quite like “get a pro forma together.”
Romney was not done with his “firing” line, however. After his event, held in a metal fabricating plant, he returned to take questions from the unwashed masses of the news corps, including 35 TV cameras.
He said that his fondness for firing was limited to health-insurance providers, and that “people are going to take things out of context and make it something it is not.”
This from a man who recently released an ad appearing to show President Obama saying that “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” In fact, Obama, in the 2008 passage, was quoting an aide to John McCain.
And now Romney is complaining about being taken out of context? That’s rich.
For Dana Milbank’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milbank.