Romney’s Business Schtick Probably Not Much of a Winner

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


One of Paul Waldman’s pet peeves is the idea that being a successful businessman gives you any special insight into running the macroeconomy of the United States. Well guess what? It’s one of my pet peeves too! Go figure. Maybe Paul and I should have lunch someday and swap pet peeves. I bet they’d match up pretty well.

In any case, as Paul points out, Romney’s economic proposals don’t have much to do with his career as a private equity manager anyway:

Romney does have a lengthy economic plan, but it amounts to the same thing Republicans always advocate: tax cuts, particularly on the wealthy; spending cuts in domestic programs; eliminating regulations; free trade; undermining labor unions, and so on. The closest thing to an innovative idea is the creation of a “Reagan Economic Zone,” which presumably will create wealth through the repeated incantation of the great one’s name.

Which is just the point: if Mitt Romney’s experience in private equity gives him such unique understanding of the economy, why is what he proposes exactly what you’d hear from any Republican who spent his working life in government? It’s partly because Romney is a Republican, and things like tax cuts and reductions in regulation are just what Republicans believe. But maybe it’s also because when it comes to the things government can do to affect the economy, being a businessman doesn’t give you such special insight after all.

As it happens, I’m not sure that Romney’s business schtick is really such a good one for him. After all, when was the last time America elected a president whose background was primarily in business? That would be — never. I mean, sure, Bush Jr. rounded up investors for a baseball team and Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer, experiences that they used as part of their resumes, but they basically ran as politicians. The last person to seriously run as a businessman was Ross Perot, and that didn’t work out so well.

Like it or not, most Americans don’t really trust business figures to run the country on their behalf. They expect business figures to run the country on behalf of business, and that’s a very different thing. What’s happening, though, is that Romney keeps saying he’s a businessman, and because the economy is weak and voters are taking that out on the incumbent, Romney’s poll numbers have remained fairly healthy. But my guess is that he could be doing even better if he’d tone down the wealthy capitalist routine. All he’s doing is leaving himself wide open to some pretty obvious and pretty devastating attacks from the Obama campaign.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest