MANCHESTER, N.H. — Rep. Ron Paul of Texas came to the defense of Mitt Romney on Tuesday, saying his Republican presidential rivals are selling out basic free-market conservative principles when they criticize the former Massachusetts governor’s time at the helm of Bain Capital.
The 12-term congressman told The Washington Times that while Mr. Romney has his faults, “it astounds me” that Republican presidential candidates would rip his work as a venture capitalist and said that “they don’t sound like they are Republicans.”
“To me it’s either they are totally ignorant of economics, or if they know economics, it’s just demagoguing it for narrow political points. So, it’s annoyed me,” Mr. Paul said.
In his victory speech after winning the New Hampshire primary here Tuesday, Mr. Romney fired back at his rivals. telling the audience that over the last few days some “desperate Republicans” have joined forces with President Obama in his push to “put free enterprise on trial.
“This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation. This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We must offer an alternative vision. I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success,” he said.
Mr. Romney has based much of his presidential campaign on a message of economic competency, highlighting his time at the Boston-based private equity company as the kind of real-world experience needed to get the nation’s fiscal house in order.
Looking to slow Mr. Romney’s momentum, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman Jr. and Rick Perry took a page out of the Democratic National Committee’s playbook, painting Mr. Romney as a fat cat and accusing him of raking in millions while dishing out pink slips.
Mr. Romney gives himself credit for creating at least 100,000 jobs during his time at Bain.
His rivals have used comments Mr. Romney made during a campaign stop Monday at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Nashua, N.H., when he said that people ought to be able to “fire” their insurance company if they’re not happy with the service.
“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” Mr. Romney said. “You know, if someone isn’t giving the good service, I want to say, ‘I’m going to go get someone else to provide this service.’ “
Mr. Romney’s remarks, about the relationship between customer and service provider, have been construed as a generic enjoyment of firing people.
Mr. Perry, speaking during a campaign stop in South Carolina on Tuesday, described Mr. Romney and the employees of Bain as “vultures.”
“They’re vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb, waiting for a company to get sick. And then they swoop in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that, and they leave the skeleton,” Mr. Perry said.
Looking to score some political points Monday, Mr. Huntsman walked directly into a media mob and opened his remarks by saying that “Gov. Romney enjoys firing people” and “I enjoy creating jobs.”
Mr. Gingrich suggested that Mr. Romney has some explaining to do.
“At some point Governor Romney has to hold a news conference and walk through in detail some of the companies that Bain took over where they apparently looted the companies, left people unemployed and walked off with millions of dollars,” he said.
A pro-Gingrich group is also spending $3.4 million to launch ads in South Carolina on Wednesday attacking Mr. Romney’s tenure at Bain.
In an appearance on Fox News Tuesday, Mr. Gingrich said he wanted to know how Bain could take $180 million out of a company and then have it go bankrupt — at one point suggesting it amounts to “looting.”
“To what extent did they have some obligation to the workers? he said. “Remember there are a lot of people made that $180 million. It wasn’t just six rich guys at the top, and yet somehow they walked off from their fiduciary obligation to the people who made the money for them.”
The Club for Growth, an influential anti-spending group, slammed Mr. Gingrich’s comments, accusing him of stooping to “economically ignorant class warfare” to promote his candidacy.
“Speaker Gingrich should apologize to Governor Romney and to the Republican Party for his attack on a basic tenet of economic freedom,” Club President Chris Chocola said.
Speaking outside the Webster School poll station in Manchester earlier Tuesday, Mr. Paul said the other candidates are making a “making a mistake.”
Later, in his interview with The Times, Mr. Paul seemed disappointed that Mr. Romney’s remarks would be taken so far out of context and perplexed that such attacks would come from people who cast themselves as conservatives.
Private equity companies, such as Bain, play a “crucial” role in restructuring companies that are on the verge of bankruptcy, he said.
“If you don’t restructure and a company gets into trouble, everybody loses, so restructuring is what you need,” he said. “Bankruptcy and restructuring are very important principle in free markets.”
He also said argued that if Republicans want to criticize Mr. Romney, they should take him to task for his issue stances, including his decision as governor to create a universal health-care system in Massachusetts — which included an individual mandate.
“I go after him on that and flip-flopping on different things,” he said.