FORTUNE -- In the aftermath of President Obama's victory over Mitt Romney, there has been a lot of attention paid to how the Obama campaign successfully defined Romney as an out-of-touch corporate raider. And most of the credit has gone to Obama campaign boss Jim Messina, who made a "grand bet" to saturate the summer airwaves with anti-Romney ads while the GOP nominee was still recovering from a drawn-out primary battle.
But this victory narrative misses a very large point: Messina's gamble was enabled by Newt Gingrich.
The Romney campaign was well aware that Bain Capital would become a major issue in the general election. After all, the late Ted Kennedy had created the blueprint in his 1994 Senate race against Romney (the only time Romney had run against a Democrat, and lost).
What it didn't expect, however, was that one of its primary opponents would bring the issue to the fore. After all, John McCain didn't touch the subject four years earlier -- with the only mention of Bain coming from Mike Huckabee, who suggested that Bain's ownership of Clear Channel was why he had failed to secure endorsements from some of the company's conservative radio hosts.
"No one in the campaign believed that Republicans would attack business enterprise in a primary contest," explains a Romney campaign consultant who declined to be identified. "That was, in hindsight, a big mistake."
The first jabs came from Rick Perry, who accused Romney in an early January debate of being a "vulture capitalist." But the heavy artillery was manned by Newt Gingrich, who began accusing Romney of "looting" companies. More importantly, a super PAC supporting Gingrich released a 28-minute video titled "When Mitt Romney Came to Town" -- full of ominous music and tales of woe from workers at companies acquired by Bain Capital.
Never mind that much of the video was misleading, or that Gingrich would later try to disassociate himself from the tape. The negative seed was planted, particularly in the minds of independent voters who had never before heard of Bain Capital or private equity.
If even stalwart Republicans like Newt Gingrich had a problem with what Romney did at Bain Capital, then it would be much harder to dismiss the subsequent Obama campaign attacks as partisan, anti-business rhetoric. Instead, Messina's "grand bet" was really just sweetening an existing pot -- reinforcing a caricature first drawn by Gingrich. And the Romney campaign had lost complete control of its own candidate's image.
"By late summer there wasn't even one particular thing he did at Bain that really mattered anymore," the consultant says. "In fact, you didn't even have to say Bain. People just instinctively believed that he had outsourced people, fired people, not cared about people. It wasn't about what had actually happened, or about policy. It wasn't substantive. But it got the job done."
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Gingrich hasn't always mocked algae-based energy.
Newt Gingrich this week opened up a new line of attack on President Obama's energy policy, mocking Obama's recent comment that fuels are being developed from algae. From a speech Gingrich gave to supporters in Tennessee on Monday night:
The President said we have to be practical. Drilling won't solve it. And then he offered his practical solution. Anybody here remember what it was? Algae. Algae. MOREDan Primack - Mar 15, 2012 12:13 PM ET
Super PACs are spending super sums to finance their Republican favorites. Good luck tracking down the source of those funds.
By Tory Newmyer, writer
FORTUNE -- As the morning-after pundits sifted through the results of the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 11, a quieter fight over the future of the campaign was playing out in a Washington, D.C. courtroom. Lawyers for Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic congressman from Maryland, along with a team MOREJan 25, 2012 5:00 AM ET
Gingrich earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from private equity.
Yesterday we reported that Newt Gingrich, who recently referred to Mitt Romney's Bain Capital activities as "exploitative," earned tens of thousands of dollars from keynoting a 2009 event in Los Vegas for private equity deal-makers. This followed up on a Bloomberg report that he earned around $60,000 for speaking at the 2009 annual meeting of private equity firm JLL Partners.
Fortune has since MOREDan Primack - Jan 19, 2012 12:33 PM ET
More private equity hypocrisy from Newt Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich doubled down on his private equity attacks yesterday, characterizing Mitt Romney's Bain Capital deals as "exploitative."
It would seem that Gingrich -- who fancies himself one of the world's leading intellectuals -- has adopted Emerson's credo that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
First, we reported that Gingrich had served as an adviser to private equity firm Forstmann Little & Co. upon MOREDan Primack - Jan 18, 2012 11:04 AM ET
The "Bain bomb" is full of wet fuses.
We've been keeping regular track of claims made about Mitt Romney's business history over at our Mitt Meter, but today's video "documentary" from the Gingrich-affiliated Winning Our Future PAC requires its own post. The ominous music, deep-voiced narrator and tales of worker woe were all to be expected. But I also thought that the video would get most of its basic facts correct MOREDan Primack - Jan 12, 2012 12:23 PM ET
Mitt Romney isn't the only presidential candidate with leveraged buyouts on his resume.
Newt Gingrich has spent the past several days assailing Mitt Romney's business background, suggesting that the former private equity executive "looted" companies and "left people unemployed."
But here's an interesting note Gingrich doesn't mention: Upon leaving Congress in 1999, the former Speaker joined private equity firm Forstmann Little & Co. as a member of its advisory board.
It is unclear MOREDan Primack - Jan 9, 2012 12:45 PM ET
Mitt Romney is private equity's preferred presidential candidate, given that he made his fortune through venture capital and leveraged buyout deals at Bain Capital. But rival Newt Gingrich has at least a few private equity pros on his donor rolls.
Here are Gingrich's PE backers, according to FEC data through the end of September:
James Cooper Senior managing director, Thompson Street Capital Partners Cooper founded Thompson Street in 2000, and the St. Louis-based firm MOREDan Primack - Dec 8, 2011 12:58 PM ET
Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and other former Clinton administration officials reflect on the last time Washington was divided over a debt ceiling debate, and why this time it's different.
By Tory Newmyer, writer
FORTUNE -- Here's the scene from 1995: A default on the federal debt is looming; young, newly-empowered Republicans on Capitol Hill are looking to use that threat as leverage to push their budget proposal; a Democratic White House MOREApr 25, 2011 5:00 AM ET
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