With Surrogates Like These

by Alec MacGillis | February 17, 2012

The Republican race briefly jumped ahead from Michigan to Ohio today with the rather overhyped announcement that the state’s attorney general, former U.S. senator Mike DeWine, was switching his support from Mitt Romney to Rick Santorum. DeWine, who was driven from the Senate in the same year as Santorum, 2006, did not mince words in announcing his desertion: “Let’s be honest. In the past months, Mitt Romney and his Super PAC have coupled a remarkable ability to tear down his opponents with an astounding inability to provide voters with a rationale to support him.”

What I found most telling, though, was the attempt by the Romney camp to preempt DeWine with a conference call with Romney supporters in Ohio (and, bizarrely, former New Hampshire governor John Sununu.) Here’s how Ohio Congressman Mike Turner framed his attack on Santorum: “One of the things with Senator Santorum, he’s not even on every ballot. He won’t even be on all the ballots across the country, including Virginia. There tends to be a basic level of the test of competence in running for president, the ability to get on the ballot everywhere to reflect on how you can govern as president. Senator Santorum has looked to his record as a consultant and everyone knows you don’t hire a consultant to run your company. You interview a consultant, you take their advice, throw out half of it and then you turn to managers like Gov. Romney to get the work done and to choose what needs to be done.”

Everyone knows you don’t hire a consultant to run your company. Apparently, Turner was referring to Santorum’s lucrative work since 2006 working as a Washington insider for companies like Consol Energy, work that Santorum has dubiously tried to spin as “consulting” not lobbying, as Newt Gingrich did with his own Beltway dealing. But really, Rep. Turner: did you forget what your candidate did for, oh, eight years before he launched the private equity firm Bain Capital? Yes, he was a consultant. And unlike Santorum, he was a real consultant. He and his colleagues more or less founded the profession of management consulting. The first company he worked at out of Harvard Business School was called Boston Consulting Group, before he left to consult for Bain & Company. There have been whole articles written about Romney’s entire approach to governing being defined by his roots in consulting. So what does Rep. Turner do? He declares—speaking in support of Romney—that “you interview a consultant, you take their advice, throw out half of it.” He declares that “you don’t hire a consultant to run your company”—well, hiring a consultant to run your company was pretty much the whole concept behind Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney ran for 15 years.

I have to imagine that someone in Chicago happily jotted down Turner’s lines for future use. Then again, maybe Turner was just following Romney’s example. It was Jon Chait, I believe, who noted not long ago Romney’s remarkable habit of accusing others of the traits he himself was most closely identified with—as when he started going after Gingrich for being a flip-flopper on issues like health care and climate change. Maybe, before going on the call, Turner consulted with the former consultant, and this was the line they came up with.

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