Romney didn’t hesitate to defend his Bain record at a motorcycle shop near Greenville early Thursday. After a campaign rally in a garage filled with customized bikes, Romney conceded that some of the businesses his company took over shed jobs under his watch. But many more added jobs, with a net addition of more than 100,000 jobs, he claimed.
“Any time a job is lost it’s a tragedy,” Romney said. “For the family, for the individual that loses a job, it’s devastating. And every time that we invested in the business it was to try and encourage that business to have ongoing life.”
But, Romney said: “The reality is in the private sector . . . there’s some businesses that have to be cut back in order to survive and try to make them stronger. And sometimes you’re successful at that and sometimes you’re not.”
The topic of Bain Capital has exposed a delicate tension within the Republican Party, which has long defended free enterprise while also trying to capture the hearts of blue-collar workers — and court tea party activists angry at companies that lobby for government aid.
Many tea party activists in South Carolina are mobilizing against Romney, and several said in interviews this week they view the Bain attacks as legitimate.
Keith Tripp, 65, a residential construction contractor who is active in a Laurens, S.C., tea party group, recoiled at the assertions from Romney and his allies that questioning Bain was an assault on capitalism.
“The fact that there are abuses in capitalism, and you point out abuses in capitalism, does that make you anti-capitalist?” asked Tripp, whose tea party group has endorsed Gingrich. “For instance, have you heard Romney talk about crony capitalism? What’s the difference in that and saying that somebody as a capitalist has not acted properly?”
Others say the attacks serve as a less-than-subtle reminder that Romney, despite often wearing jeans and open-collared shirts on the campaign trail, as he did Thursday, is a wealthy executive type who shares more in common with mega-corporations than with Main Street business owners and workers.
“I think he’s in another world,” said Joe Dugan, a Myrtle Beach activist and Gingrich backer who is organizing a tea party convention this weekend featuring appearances by Gingrich and Santorum. Dugan said Bain is fair game. “With all his million-dollar homes, he doesn’t understand the everyday American.”
A number of conservative leaders have come to Romney’s defense, including Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Tim Phillips, who leads the tea-party-friendly Americans for Prosperity. On Thursday, a former Perry donor and former South Carolina GOP chairman, Barry Wynn, switched teams and endorsed Romney — in part over the Bain issue.
Staff writers Nia-Malika Henderson, Steve Hendrix, Stephanie McCrummen and Sandhya Somashekhar contributed to this report.