NOW with Alex Wagner | May 15, 2012
>>> of the general election air war has begun and team obama is hoping that they can make leverage buyouts and bankruptcy the vain of romney 's existence. it's may 18th and this is tuesday now. joining me today is ben smith ar martin bashir . perhaps the finest hour of tv on this network and steve of salon.com. speaking this last hour on "the view," president obama acknowledged it will be a close can election.
>> how tight do you think it's going to be with mitt romney .
>> there are a lot of folks hurting out there and in that type of environment.
>> there was still a lot of problems in my life.
>> the confidence, martin, i want to bring you in on this first.
>> did you nose ee elizabeth hassle back was not clapping.
>> the president has really begun. i think we see this week as the beginning of the election. branding exercises to show mitt romney is a vampire ceo of corporate radar and so forth. i want to go to stephanie cutter speaking on "the daily rundown" which attacked romney on his record at bain .
>> this has nothing to do with private equity . this has to do with mitt romney making the central premise of his campaign for presidency. the central qualification for his business experience, the economic policies that he's put on the table. they represent those same values and lessons. the people at the top do very well. the people in the middle are left holding the bag.
>> now, we know that mitt romney is going to be giving a big speech on the economy and he says, my time spend leading businesses taught me that we need to hold every agency to a simple test. if something can be done more efficiently outside the federal government , that's where it belongs. saying nothing about if they are paying wages too high, we will --
>> i think there's a slight mistake being made because people are suggesting that the president has chosen to brand mitt romney like this. and stephanie cutter is right. he's allowed himself to be portrayed in this area. the problem is, when you look at his performance as governor of massachusetts , he was 47th in job creation .
>> out of 50 states . student fees went up 63%. 14% cut in higher education budgets. so on economic and job creation issues, he's actually very, very weak. the one thing that he's actually very good on, what the health care where 63% of the people in massachusetts like -- i don't even want to talk about it. if you like a fracture in his own presentation himself that is inviting the critique of the president.
>> so, lois, to martin's point, bringing up bain as a job creator is a flawed tactic. the point of bain was not to create jobs, it was to create profit. this is potentially going to be a weakness for romney , although it bears mentioning that romney is out with its own ad. saying, look, at this other steel plant we created 6,000 jobs. do you think this is something that he can win on the bain equation?
>> no, i don't. because mitt romney -- when you look at these polls, even people who think he's strong on the economy think he's out of touch. so portraying him as a bain multimillionaire, i think that totally goes into that narrative completely. so i think -- you know, i think romney 's opened the door. it's like when you're on a stand and you're a witness and something gets raised and the lawyer goes, he's opened the door. well, that's what romney has done. he has totally defined himself by his business successes and so he's fair game now.
>> steve, you're a student of history and we have a little montage here of how candidates can get termed. let's take a look at that.
>> for ton received ten weekend passes from prison. horton fled a kidnapping couple. dukakis on crime.
>> he voted against t he voted for education reform and claims he's against increasing medicaid premiums but voted five times to do so. john kerry , which ever way the wind blows.
>> it bears mentioning that mitt romney likes water skiing . we haven't seen that yet. we haven't seen an ad with water skiing out yet. but can team obama define mitt romney as the vulture capitalist early enough in the campaign cycle that it will be a real problem for him come november?
>> honestly, i'm not sure. when we talk about history, the interesting thing is that they run in six competitive elections in his political career, going all the way back to 1994 , saying this is a guy who stole all of the oil money for himself. it's worked for ted kennedy . same thing. didn't work. my question about it is this. the advantage that romney has in polling, you ask who is better on job creation , on economy. romney has consistently been ahead. the obama campaign , you undermine his credibility and maybe he doesn't win that argument. but my question is, is he winning that argument despite of his background? and de-facto the guy the alternative is better.
>> ben, the words -- you know, leverage, buyouts, managed bankruptcy, we haven't done a deep dive into what it is precisely that mitt romney has done as the head of bain and sort of his methodology is broadly speaking for the economy. do you think the american public gets into those terms, vulture capitalism? it's a much more of a buzz word .
>> " rolling stone "s reader. i think there are people -- i think part of it is that romney doesn't come from the private sector that his father came from. like an easily understandable manufacturing. it's grown and he comes from this new hard to understand widely distrusted part of the economy. i think in the broad strokes he comes from a weak recovery. i think most people following it, the general sense that he was in business is a plus, certainly the obama campaign is going to do everything that they can to mute that.
>> it's weird, because what is the basis for his great performance as a job creator?
>> that's fundamentally the problem.
>> successful business figure.
>> he's not a job creator.
>> job creator statistics, they were 47th and the two states behind them were hit by katrina.
>> where president gets credit for jobs that started on day one and ceos have things to do with the broader economy.
>> i think it's a brilliant play because he looks like the community organizer , someone who doesn't have that kind of private sector experience in his own background and, therefore, they have embellished the businessmen. i'm still struggling to find the actual job creation record. yes, he's now worth $250 million. but so are lots of people who promote the vash crash in 2008 .
>> the narrative of being a mr. fix-it in the business world is helpful when you're trying to raise vast sums of money from wall street . and 72% of the donations so far. on that note, it's working.