Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON: The awkwardness of presidential politics was on full display Sunday morning as three former rivals of Mitt Romney were questioned about their past criticism of the presumed Republican presidential nominee.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Sen. John McCain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich each took to the Sunday talk shows and backed away from past critiques of Romney’s background.
Giuliani dismissed his criticism as having “a certain amount of personal ego,” McCain defended free enterprise, which “can be cruel,” and Gingrich said Romney had done what he needed to do to explain his business background to voters.
For Gingrich, who only recently conceded the race for the Republican nomination, it was a stark reversal.
Gingrich had led the attacks on Romney’s past, making his experience as chief executive of Bain Capital a key issue in the early primary states.
“The Bain model was to go in at a very low price, borrow an immense amount of money, pay Bain a great deal of money and leave,” Gingrich said earlier this year. “Now, I’ll let you decide if that’s really good capitalism. I think it’s exploitative. It’s think it’s not defensible.”
“Sure, I went straight at him on the Bain issue,” Gingrich said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. Now a Romney backer, Gingrich said Bain is a losing issue for Democrats.
Reminded that he had at one point in the primary campaign demanded that Romney convene a news conference where he “explains what happened to the companies that went bankrupt and why did Bain make so much money out of companies that were going bankrupt,” Gingrich said Sunday: “I think he did that.”
“Bain as an issue doesn’t work because people look at it in balance and they say, ‘Yeah, you can pick a couple companies that lost. You can pick a lot of companies that succeeded,’?” Gingrich said.
Giuliani, who had during the 2008 Republican primary campaign questioned Romney’s record on spending and health care, now says Romney is the “perfect choice.”
“Well, I mean, there’s a certain amount of personal ego in that. At that point, I was probably comparing his record to my record,” Giuliani said on CNN’s State of the Union. “That’s all part of campaigning.
“Maybe it was circumstances or whatever, but I had massive reductions in unemployment. He had a reduction in unemployment of about 8, 10 — I think it was 15 percent. I had a reduction of unemployment of 50 percent. He had a growth of jobs of about 40,000. We had a growth of jobs of about 500,000,” Giuliani said of his time as New York mayor. “So I was comparing what I thought was my far superior record to his otherwise decent record, but numbers weren’t as great.”
And McCain, asked on Fox News Sunday to respond to a 2008 statement in which he said Romney “managed companies, and he bought and he sold, and sometimes people lost their jobs,” also defended Romney’s business background.
“This is a free enterprise system,” McCain said on Sunday. “Yes, the free enterprise system can be cruel. The problem with this administration is that small businesses have been the ones to suffer the most.”