What Mitt Romney Missed About Jeb Bush's Mitt Romney Problem
Yesterday’s Bloomberg Politics opus about Jeb Bush’s private equity investments is looking like bad news for the former Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate. How bad? So bad that Mitt Romney–MITT ROMNEY!–is considering another run for president because, Politico’s Ben White and Maggie Haberman report, he thinks the revelations about Bush’s offshore fund and foreign investors may wind up being disqualifying. Pause and savor that one for a moment.
If Bush does enter the race, he’ll have to answer a number of questions: Why is his latest fund, BH Global Aviation, located offshore in a country that finance lawyers describe as a “tax haven”? Who are his investors—the ones currently hidden behind a Delaware LLC? Will the apparent focus of his investments—China—pose any sort of political conflict?
Before grappling with those questions, it’s worth noting what Romney seems to have missed. To my knowledge, Bush never bought a company and laid people off. He never closed a factory. And he never made a corporate acquisition and then squeezed it with debt. It’s harder for someone to paint him as a “vulture capitalist.” But of course, as Mark Halperin and John Heilemann pointed out on “With All Due Respect,” even Mitt Romney didn’t recognize he had a Mitt Romney problem:
Bush’s problem is different. Sure, private equity and offshore funds invite the inevitable Romney comparisons. But at its heart, it seems to me—having spent a couple weeks digging through his financial dealings to gauge how they’d effect his political future—Bush’s problem is really about the fact that his business people and his political people don’t seem to have done a great deal of communicating. Most of the Jeb associates I spoke to about his new fund, incorporated just two ago, learned about it from me.
The Bush team’s post hoc response has been to try to wave reporters off the story or minimize its importance by suggesting, as they did to Jonathan Martin of the New York Times, that Bush has been involved in these ventures for a long time, since shortly after he left the Florida governor’s mansion in 2007. At least as far as his private equity career is concerned, that’s not true. Public filings show it began last May.
A more effective argument, which they’ve also made, is that Bush’s business career is just a part of a long resume and that his eight years as governor are what voters will ultimately judge him on. We’ll see. The best response of all would be openness about his funds and his partners, unless there really is something damaging behind all those lawyers and holding companies--in which case maybe Romney has a clearer path to the nomination that we think.
An earlier version of this story identified one of the Politico reporters. It was Ben White, not Ben Smith.