January 30, 2012

In recent days, two ads were released in Florida attacking Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital. One was produced by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a left-wing public-worker union that has pledged to spend upward of $100 million to reelect Barack Obama. The other was produced by Newt Gingrich’s super PAC, Winning the Future.

Can you tell which is which?

Ad No. 1: With a crescendo of ominous music in the background, a news anchor declares: “With Medicare, the government says con artists are draining the life blood out of it by filing millions of dollars in phony claims.” As he speaks, images of an unseen person counting hundred-dollar bills appear. The screen flashes: “Cayman Islands” … “Swiss bank” … “$100 million IRA” … “Illegal activity” … “Romney supervised” … “Company guilty of massive Medicare fraud” — and then, over a picture of smiling Romney, the words “Blood Money” appear.

Ad No. 2: A picture of a smirking Romney appears while an announcer asks: “What kind of businessman is Mitt Romney? While Romney was a director of the Damon Corp., the company was defrauding Medicare of millions. Prosecutors called it corporate greed run amok. The company was fined $100 million dollars. But Romney himself made a fortune. Corporate greed. Medicare fraud. Sound familiar?”

So which is the union ad and which is the Gingrich super PAC ad? (Answer: Ad No. 2 is from AFSCME, Ad No. 1 is from Gingrich’s super PAC. If you got it wrong, you should not be surprised — the two are virtually indistinguishable. Indeed, the pro-Gingrich video is the more incendiary of the two, not simply accusing Romney of fraud but attacking him for the crime of being wealthy and successful. If you’re a free-market conservative, that should leave you deeply troubled.

And Team Gingrich has another worrisome ally in this line of attack. Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) blasted out a long memo to the press on Friday echoing the claims made by Gingrich and AFSCME and castigating Romney for “[l]aying off workers, defrauding Medicare, bankrupting companies, and storing millions of dollars in notorious off-shore tax havens.”

So in Florida today we have the sorry spectacle of the head of the Democratic National Committee, a pro-Obama union and Newt Gingrich’s super PAC teaming up to launch the same class warfare attack on Mitt Romney. All that’s missing is for Michael Moore to join the fray.

Some will defend Gingrich by pointing out that this ad was not produced by his campaign but by the independent super PAC supporting his campaign. Yet last December, when Gingrich objected to the contents of a Romney super PAC ad, he declared that Romney was “morally responsible” for the way Gingrich was portrayed in the ad. So by Gingrich’s standards, he is morally responsible for this ad, but he has not criticized it or called for it to be pulled from the airwaves.

The Romney campaign disputes the substance of the Gingrich/AFSCME/Wasserman Schulz attack and points groups such as Factcheck.org, which says that “Romney was never accused of fraud personally” and that “some viewers could be misled” by the accusations. Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho told the Huffington Post that “the last Gingrich group film [“King of Bain”] went down as a spectacular failure. If they want to keep attacking free enterprise, that’s fine. We will have that debate.”

Why is Gingrich once again reaching into the Obama playbook to attack Mitt Romney? Doesn’t Gingrich have plenty of fodder for legitimate attacks on Romney’s record as governor? As for Romney, while there is nothing illegal about having Swiss bank accounts or money in the Cayman Islands, those holdings show him to be remarkably tone-deaf and politically clueless. The man has been running for president for nearly a decade — plenty of time to bring his assets onshore. He should have realized that having Swiss bank accounts and money in the Cayman Islands would open him up to attacks from the left this fall, when President Obama will surely try to paint him as an out of touch multimillionaire.

But attacking and distorting Romney’s success in the free market is the job of Obama and the liberal Democrats. We should expect more from Gingrich, the man claiming to be the true conservative in this race.