"When Mitt Romney Came to Town": attack video released

Film accuses Republican frontrunner of contributing to the "biggest American job loss since World Wa

The film that the US political world has been waiting for is finally here. When Mitt Romney Came to Town is an attack video focusing on the Republican frontrunner's corporate past -- but will it have the desired effect of turning GOP voters away from Romney?

The 28-minute film, was released yesterday on the website of the pro-Gingrich super-PAC, Winning Our Future. The Republican candidates are currently touring South Carolina, ahead of the next primary election on 21 January.

The film first caused a stir last week when a three minute trailer was released on the King of Bain website, following a weekend of debates amongst the six Republican candidates.

Although it was released by his supporters, Gingrich has sought to distance himself from the video. Despite his initial criticism of Romney's actions as CEO of the corporate firm Bain Capital, Gingrich has been reminded that his attacks on the former governor of Massachusetts' economic past could easily play into the hands of the Democrats and lose him much-needed votes amongst his own party.

In an interview with Fox News's Greta Van Susteren on On the Record last night, Gingrich said:

Well first of all I'm not attacking Bain Capital, I'm questioning Mitt Romney's judgment, I'm questioning Mitt Romney's decisions. He's the person who has gone around now saying that his business career is one of his two credentials... I've raised the question, which I think is a totally legitimate question -- what about some companies that Bain took over that went bankrupt? And all I've said is, you know, this isn't about free enterprise.

The film, made by Jason Killian Meath -- who worked on Romney's 2008 campaign -- Stuart Stevens, and Russ Schriefer, focuses on Bain's actions after acquiring four companies: the washing-machine company UniMac Corp., K.B. Toys, tech company DDi Corp., and paper company Ampad. The message at the heart of the documentary is that profit-led decisions were made regardless of the effects on the companies -- all of which eventually declared bankruptcy -- or the lives of their employees.

Former employees are interviewed during the 28 minutes, detailing the hardships they encountered after Bain Capital acquired the companies they worked for. "That hurt so bad" one woman says, "to leave my home, because of a man who has fifteen homes." (He does not have fifteen homes, but we do know he just bulldozed his California mansion.)

"Sometimes we'd have to send a machine out without a part on it," says another employee, who blames Bain of ruining the quality of their manufacturing by pressing them to produce more in less time.

The narrator accuses Romney of slashing "jobs in almost every state" before cutting to a video of Romney stating that "creative destruction does enhance productivity. For an economy to thrive, as ours does, there are a lot of people who will suffer because of that."

The film ends with the narrator warning: "Now Romney says he wants to bring what he learned on Wall Street to the White House. What would his Cabinet look like? Who would he put in positions of power around him?"

It seems likely that the film will be an own goal. South Carolina is a conservative state that will not appreciate the fact that the documentary gives ammunition to the Obama campaign, or the blame it places on private businesses for job losses.

Republican voters were struggling to find a candidate to rally behind collectively. This video may just have inadvertenly promoted Romney to the task: it certainly will not enamour voters to his rivals.

Ellie Foreman-Peck
Show Hide image

Martin Schulz: could this man bring an end to the reign of Angela Merkel?

The German Eurocrat is the biggest threat to the possibility of a fourth term for Merkel. 

At first sight, Martin Schulz looks like an unlikely political saviour. Thin of hair and thick of waist, the 61-year-old was a member of the European Parliament for 23 years and its president for five. In an anti-establishment age, it was predicted that Schulz would struggle when he became the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) candidate to replace Angela Merkel as the German chancellor in January. Instead, he is spearheading a remarkable revival in his tribe’s fortunes. On 19 February, for the first time in a decade, the SPD polled above Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), attracting 33 per cent to their 32 per cent. The SPD vote share has increased by 12 points in a month. The cause is clear: “Martin mania”.

For months, it was assumed that Merkel would secure a fourth term as chancellor in September’s federal election. The SPD, the grandfather of European social democracy and Germany’s oldest party (it was founded in 1863), had polled as low as 19 per cent. After forming a grand coalition with the CDU in 2013, Schulz’s party was marginalised as Merkel claimed credit for policies such as the country’s first minimum wage. Voters defected to the far-left Die Linke and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. The SPD’s future looked to be one of managed decline.

Sigmar Gabriel, the party’s leader since 2009, stood little chance of supplanting Merkel as chancellor. As a result, like François Hollande, he reached for the pearl-handled revolver: he announced his intention to step aside on 24 January after internal SPD polling showed that Schulz would perform significantly better against Merkel. “It was not an easy decision but I’m convinced it was the right decision,” Gabriel told reporters. His judgement was vindicated as public polls gave Schulz an 11-point lead over Merkel (49-38).

The German chancellor’s apparent unassailability owed less to her strength than to her opponents’ weakness. Eleven years after she entered office, voters had grown weary of Merkel’s leadership but saw no viable alternative. In Schulz, they have found one. Having been engaged at EU level and held no domestic office since standing down after 11 years as mayor of the north-western market town Würselen in 1998, Schulz has been embraced by voters as a relative outsider.

Unlike his SPD colleagues, Schulz can criticise the CDU’s record without appearing hypocritical or feeble. He has attracted voters with a centre-left emphasis on redistribution and social justice. “When people see that their taxes are used to give their children a future, they buy into it,” Schulz has said in interviews.

The European Parliament has been a useful platform for his pugnacious style. He is best known for being compared to a concentration camp guard by Silvio Berlusconi in 2003 and for his interjection in 2010 after Nigel Farage branded the then EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, a “damp rag”. Schulz retorted: “It’s not right that this man should be able to trample over the dignity of this house!”

Voters have warmed to Schulz’s personal story as well as his political history. He was born on 20 December 1955 in the village of Hehlrath, North-Rhine Westphalia, to a policeman father and a homemaker mother (he is the youngest of five). Rather than going to university, he trained as a bookseller and was a promising footballer. Two severe knee injuries ended his playing career at the age of 18 and he sought refuge in alcohol after falling into depression. Having contemplated suicide, he recovered to open a bookshop in his home town (which he ran until he became an MEP in 1994) and has been teetotal since 1980.

Schulz educated himself by devouring historical fiction (his favourite writers are John Steinbeck and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) and retains the restlessness of an autodidact (he often works 18-hour days). His bonhomie and blunt manner appeal to voters who regard Merkel as aloof.

That Schulz has come to the SPD’s rescue is unsurprising. He joined the party at the age of 19 and became the youngest mayor in North-Rhine Westphalia when he was elected in Würselen at 31. After more than two decades serving the EU, the attractions of a return to domestic politics were obvious. “People must look into your eyes and see that you are a bloody streetfighter,” he remarked in 2013, as he presciently dismissed Ed Miliband’s electoral chances.

Schulz has disoriented the Christian Democrats, who failed to anticipate a centre-left renaissance. In a mark of how much he has unsettled them, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has denounced him as a Trump-like populist for his slogan “Make Europe great again”. Were Schulz to replace Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to be elected French president, the pair would unite in seeking to impose punitive Brexit terms on the UK.

For Germany’s Social Democrats, the fear is that Schulz’s surge has come too soon – voters could swing back to Merkel and the CDU before polling day. But after years as an emblem of centre-left malaise, the SPD has momentum. Schulz is determined to prove that there are second acts in political lives. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit