The intra-GOP war over the nature and meaning of Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital has gotten so bad that Bill Kristol has stepped forward with a special editorial calling on all parties to hold their fire:

On the one hand, Newt Gingrich’s attacks (and the follow-on assaults by Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry) on Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital have been unfair, over the top, and, for that matter, all over the place. Gingrich, Perry, and Huntsman deserve much of the criticism they’ve received from conservative commentators.

On the other, Mitt Romney’s claim throughout his campaign that his private sector experience almost uniquely qualifies him to be president is also silly. Does he really think that having done well in private equity, venture capital, and business consulting — or even in the private sector more broadly — is a self-evident qualification for public office?....

And the unqualified defense of the virtues of Bain Capital by some on the right is also silly. Criticism of any behavior by a private firm? Outrage! An Assault on Capitalism! Haven’t they read Schumpeter? Don’t they know the glories of Creative Destruction? And, of course, all such destruction must be assumed to be creative!

I read this as a call for a truce of sorts. Kristol is well aware of just how dangerous GOP divisions over Romney’s brand of capitalism are to the party’s chances in November.

To be sure, there have long been tensions in the GOP between the blue collar conservatives and Reagan Democrats who make up the party’s base and the free marketeers and country club business leaders who make up the party’s donor class (with the new crop of antigovernment Tea Party voters to varying degrees sharing the ideology of the latter group). But the tensions have now burst out into the open in a way that risks serious long term damage to the likely nominee, bolstering the entire case Dems intend to make in the general election about the damage the predatory, unfettered capitalism he represents has done to the country. As Jamison Foser puts it, we’re now at the point where Republicans are openly “speaking out against looting companies and screwing workers.”

So Kristol is telling all sides to knock it off. Notably, Kristol, who has never had both feet in the radical free market camp to begin with, refrained from making a stirring case in favor of unfettered capitalism, instead pointing out how foolish it is of conservatives to dismiss criticism of Romney’s Bain years an assault on capitalism itself. That in itself is an implicit acknowledgment of who is winning the argument, of which way the mood of the country is heading, and of the perils Republicans face if their nominee — and the GOP in general — are identified with the brand of unrestrained capitalism Romney’s Bain years embody.

As conservative writer Matt Lewis succinctly put it today: “If Romney’s the nominee (for right or wrong) THIS is the GOP’s brand image. Hope they’re ready to defend it.” Indeed.