NOW with Alex Wagner | May 22, 2012
>>> the president and most of his surrogate are in agreement. mitt romney 's record at bain capital is fair game . but the bigger question remains, is it a winning strategy? it's tuesday, may 22nd , and this is "now."
>>> joining me today, rolling stone executive editor, eric bates, carol lee is white house correspondent for the " wall street journal ," msnbc analyst joan walsh of salon.com and patricia murphy of citizen jane politics and contributor to "the daily beast ." newt gingrich has a warning for the president, attacking romney 's record at bain capital is fair game but is not going to work, case in point, his failed bid for the nomination.
>> a discussion about a particular company or a particular decision is not an attack on the free enterprise system . i think it's perfectly reasonable for the news media, the president, anybody who wants to, to look at bain capital . what i'm reporting to you is, having lived through it it doesn't work very effectively.
>> carol lee, you're new to the rodeo, i'm going to you first on this. newt gingrich actually offering word of advice perhaps for president obama , bain didn't work for him, it's not going to work for the white house , what do you make of that?
>> i don't think the president will take advice from newt gingrich in terms of how he's going to run his re- election campaign . if you look at what the president said yesterday, it's obvious he's not going to back down on this, double down on it, clearly wants to get into the debate. when asked at the end of the nato press conference yesterday, he went in forcefully, said romney played it fair game , he's running on his business experience and also said that tried to free him in the way it's not bad what he did, but this isn't necessarily the best experience for running for the office of president, say.
>> is that too confusing, joan, the idea that it's not bad that -- private equity in and of itself isn't a bad thing, it's just the clarification the president made, these are his credentials for running for president, and he doesn't get it.
>> i think what the president did yesterday really made it clear why it matters. i think what he did was a good thing, alex. i think that saying it's one company demonizing private equity , all of these things that they've thrown back at him i thought he handled it well to say mitt romney has made this the centerpiece of why you should elect him president and i'm going to tell you why it doesn't matter and why it's not a job qualification. so i thought it worked.
>> i want to play the bill burton has given us an early peek at a new priorities usa ad out today which they position as a response to the crossroads gps ad basketball, which we'll show you later. the new priorities usa ad, bain cal ta capital is front and center.
>> i had 2 1/2 years to go. i was 60 years old. i had no health care and that's scary. when mitt romney did that, he -- he made -- he made me sick.
>> okay. patricia , what i'll say on the heels of that, david brooks saying, in a country that desperately wants change i have no idea why a party wouldn't compete to be the party of change and trounce formation. for a campaign like obama who promised change i have no idea why he would want to run a campaign that regurgitates the exact same ads and arguments as so many democratic campaigns from the ancient past.
>> that was part of obama 's success in 2008 he ran a campaign that a lot of people hadn't seen a lot of before, a lot of the rhetoric, was and much you and i and the country and they responded to that absolutely. in this in case, obama 's got to get after democratic voters, shore them up, use messages that they believe will, especially with white men. they have a huge deficit there. they are using messages, they are not just throwing spaghetti against the wall. they have focus groups --
>> a lot of focus groups .
>> a lot of digging here. i do think, it's very difficult to watch the obama administration go after bain capital and also still pulling their bunches, we know that's because of the fund-raising base on wall street . and he's really i think trying to do two dances at the same time. i don't think that the fund-raising piece is coming up to the surface yet but one of his biggest was in the leadership of bain while this was going on. he's treading in relatively dangerous territory in this attack alone, but they believe an attack is going to work, they're going to keep doing it.
>> it's romney 's arrow in the quiver, look my record at bain was great. john sununu in a conference call , let's hear what he had to say.
>> the bain record as a whole is fair game . what you have to do is doing an honest evaluation. the bain record is about 80% they were able to save jobs at companies and 20% of the -- when they invested in companies that were in such bad shape they weren't able to save those jobs. that's a good batting average in the private sector business.
>> eric, i'm not sure anybody is able to do an incredibly effective job with the bain thing. as patricia said the president has to tread a sensitive line, as far as not alienating wall street and/or seeming like he's an enemy of capitalism, whereas romney , when they get into 80% of the companies -- first the notion that bain was even the premise of bain was to create jobs is a ridiculous one. beyond that the record, x number of jobs created at staples, factory closings, it's tricky.
>> that's the core of what obama is going after, what you said. the idea of bain is about job creation is nonsense. it was about profit creation for the shareholders. this isn't an attack on private equity . it's an attack on a radical, greedy destructive model of capitalism about going in and dismantling corporations for profit, driving up debt, imposing a harsh austerity program on them and squeezing every penny out of them possible.
>> in terms of how fair and kind and good to the american worker private this kind of corporate buy-out work is, that's one thing. how does a president deliver that message while not indicting everybody involved in private equity ?
>> i don't think he is indicting everybody involved in private equity . i think there's a clever counterattack on the part of romney and the republicans to say, if you attack bain , you're attacking private equity , cal tappism itself. that's like saying if you attack wright, you're attacking christianity. it's not about christianity or capital itch, it's about this flavor of private equity that romney helped pioneer.
>> in those ads you have a woman saying mitt romney made me sick. you have -- i'm -- look i think mitt romney 's claim this is character assassination is highly dubious, but you are treading into questions of morality there, are you not?
>> i think that when you -- to go to your point, when you look at what the democrats have saying that have problems with ads the division isn't exactly do you go after bain capital for what it did, mitt romney what he did while there, but it's also that these ads have such a negative tone to them that that's where the president's getting in trouble. so it's a very hard needle to thread in what he's trying to do here. he had a message for democrats yesterday, also in his remarks, where he said this is not a distraction, this is central to the debate and put them on notice in that front.
>> i think it's a different era, too, when you know you -- usually the president is the one with the economic record to attack. in this case his opponent has an economic record to attack as well and the president would like to turn the discussion to his opponent's economic record, because he thinks his own economic record matches up well compared to his opponent.
>> i hear he's not talking about his own economic records. he's talking a lot -- he doesn't want to talk about it because it's not so great. it's not where he wants it to be. the notion he's attacking only bain and not private equity , most americans that's in one ear, out the other, they hear him attacking business and that's where certainly a lot of republicans and independents start to get a little queasy.
>> i think he's doing something important. i think he's telling a story about the way we have privileged finance capital in a particular way with personal tax rates and corporate tax rates, and really said democrats and republicans, by the way, for the last 15 years that you're the good guys and what's good for wall street is good for america, and that took the economy off the cliff in 2008 . and the president is trying to come back from there, tell the story, understand how that happened, tell the american people how that happened, and stand for a more balanced vision of capitalism that's about workers get rich. we had a country once where the rich got rich, but everybody got richer.
>> there was mobility.
>> there was mobility until the mid '70s. and since then you've had this phenomenon of the top 1%.
>> and stagnating middle class wages.
>> and hostility to anything that helps the middle class .
>> as carol mentions in the president's remarks, he was the one at nato who said this business a fair shot and went back to tie it to fiscal policy.
>> instead of character.
>> he wants --
>> that is again a very difficult line to jockey.