The Strategy: Mr. Romney has endured weeks of stinging criticism by President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies over the way companies and workers were treated by the private-equity firm he once ran, Bain Capital. Democrats have seized on a Bain-owned steel mill that went belly up to make the case that Mr. Romney cares more about profits than people.
The likely Republican nominee fired back this week by questioning the president's own track record investing taxpayer money in private companies that suffered a fate similar to the Kansas City steel mill's. The Romney campaign unveiled a new Web video hammering the Obama administration for offering loan guarantees to a series of struggling clean-energy companies, including Solyndra, the bankrupt solar-panel maker whose failure could cost taxpayers more than $500 million.
American Crossroads, a super PAC backing Republican candidates, amplified that message with its own Internet video criticizing the president's "public equity" investments in Solyndra and other clean-energy companies. In the spot, the narrator also blames Mr. Obama for thousands of car dealers who closed their doors in the aftermath of the auto-industry bailout.
Mr. Romney himself drove the point home Thursday during a surprise visit to Solyndra's shuttered offices in Fremont, Calif. "Free enterprise to the president means taking money from taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends," he said. The attacks offered an implied contrast between Mr. Romney's track record at Bain, in which he generated hefty profits for his investors as well as any jobs Bain-owned companies created, with the president's wobbly foray into the energy sector.
Mr. Romney's mandate at Bain was to make money, while a president, as Mr. Obama likes to remind voters, seeks to create—or, in the case of the auto rescue, save—jobs, which meant wading into troubled industries or giving investment incentives to a new one. But the criticism of Mr. Obama as a "public equity" investor feeds the perception with some that he is an unqualified steward of the federal till.
The Result: Time will tell who emerges looking like the savvier investor, but the Republican attacks exacerbated a week of bad economic news for Mr. Obama by underscoring his role in presiding over a sluggish economic recovery. The May jobs report, released on Friday, showed slow job creation and an uptick in the unemployment rate. "These numbers are devastating," Mr. Romney said on CNBC Friday. Mr. Obama, speaking in Minnesota, blamed Republicans in Congress for blocking policies he said would create jobs.
Mr. Romney's attacks showed that Republicans can sing from the same songbook, while Democrats continue questioning the Obama campaign's attacks on Bain and private equity. Just as it appeared the Obama camp had silenced its critics in the Democratic Party, former president Bill Clinton seemed to chime in on the private-equity debate, telling CNN, "I don't think we ought to get into the position where we say, 'This is bad work, this is good work.' "
By Patrick O'Connor, The Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2012