Ambrose: Mitt’s brilliance gets under Newt’s skin

By Jay Ambrose, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

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Mitt Romney was a hugely successful, brilliant, insightful, bold, tough business leader of the kind who has lent mightily to American sparkle in good times, and for Newt Gingrich, that’s all the ammunition he needs to destroy the man.

Why, Romney is a capitalist! He eats workers for snacks! Vengeance is mine, saith the Newt.

It’s the latest Newt you are seeing here, but also the old Newt. For a while, we had the new Newt, the one who would tell other participants in GOP presidential debates to quit having at each other so much. The point of the exercise, he would say, was to address substance, showing what a failure President Barack Obama had been and how wrong his policies are.

Newt seemed to have put aside the vituperation that used to define him. He himself said he had matured, and for a period was indeed mostly happy-faced, with no issue too remote to escape his brilliant exposition. His poll numbers began to rise to the point that he announced he would win the Republican nomination for president and beat Obama in the general election.

Then, again and again, as happens to front-runners, the press hit him with his past, particularly his $1.6 million worth of association with the recession-inspiring Freddie Mac. When you placed that next to some of his newly inspired extremism — a call to restrain courts from their checks on the executive and legislative branches of government — his popularity drooped. There were also millions of dollars of anti-Gingrich ads in Iowa, but people all over the country were reassessing this player, people who never saw those ads.

Never mind. Romney supporters were behind some of those ads, Gingrich was mightily ticked, and when he fell on his face in the Iowa caucuses, he was first off a crybaby, then the Terminator, vowing to get Romney. He zeroed in on his days as chief of Bain Capital Investment, saying that what Romney did was ruin lives by buying up companies, firing people and walking off rich himself. He has made it clear that, in his view, Romney is not fit to be president. I think I just heard cheers in the White House.

Truth about Romney

The truth goes something like this. Mitt Romney has an outstanding business mind, as he first proved academically in graduating near the top of a Harvard program in business and law. He then proved it in the nonacademic world by heading up a business that mostly invested in struggling companies that could in some instances have faced total demise in which every job would be lost.

Turning businesses like this around is something few can do, but Romney and his team did it again and again, sometimes through efficiencies requiring at least temporary workforce cutbacks. There were some extraordinary successes, and overall, jobs were not just saved, but tens of thousands gained. Bain did not hit 100 percent, but no one does, and a Wall Street Journal examination of bankruptcies found nothing terribly unusual or disappointing. Bain is a Romney plus.

The man has other pluses, such as his courage and resilience as a missionary in France after a tragic accident, or his miracle financial rescue of the Winter Olympics or his successes as a Republican governor dealing with a Democratic legislature in Massachusetts (health plan excluded).

Not everything about him inspires me. He has done his share of flip-flopping. He could be bolder on tax reform and debt reduction. He should never have criticized Jon Huntsman for being Obama’s ambassador to China and some of his trade talk is political hooey.

But he is a sound candidate standing next to some unsound candidates, Gingrich and Ron Paul, to be sure, and maybe even Huntsman, who along with others picked up on Romney talking about customers getting rid of insurance companies that perform poorly as if he were talking about firing employees. This is a stretch so large as to make you wonder whether Huntsman shouldn’t have stayed in China.