Mitt Romney Has Found the New 'You Didn't Build That'

The 2016 hopeful relocates a 2012 attack that did not quite work.

Former Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, delivers remarks during a 'CoMITT to the Comeback' rally for Michigan republican candidates October 2, 2014 in Livonia, Michigan.

Photographer: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

On Wednesday night, Mitt Romney will give his first major speech in Mississippi since the 2012 primaries. It's not a state that has been especially kind to him. It was in Mississippi, after all, that Romney referred to cheese grits as "cheesy grits," which rankles to this day. (In God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, Mike Huckabee spends probably too much time explaining that "cheese grits" are delicious grits with flavorful dairy mixed in, while "cheesy grits" do not exist.) It was Mississippi that delivered Romney his final third-place showing of the primaries, a narrow loss to both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

Bloomberg Politics' Lisa Lerer is in Mississippi to cover Romney; his office has sent reporters a preview of what he'll say. The excerpts include the second half of a zinger about a comment Hillary Clinton made last year, when campaigning for doomed Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley. "Don’t let anybody tell you, that, you know, it's corporations and businesses that create jobs," said Clinton. "You know, that old theory, trickle-down economics."

In context, and only after reporters asked, it was clear Clinton was referring to tax breaks for corporations, an old Democratic saw; she did not mean to literally suggest that corporations did not create jobs. But in Wednesday's speech, Romney plans to join the parade of Republicans pummeling Clinton for the quote. "How can Secretary Clinton provide opportunity for all if she doesn't know where jobs come from in the first place?" he'll ask.

Anyone who lived through the 2012 campaign might feel a shudder of deja vu. In July of that year, President Barack Obama tried and failed to borrow a line from a pre-Senate Elizabeth Warren, about how businesses owed the American system their success. "If you've got a business, you didn't build that," he said. "Somebody else made that happen."

Like the later Clinton line, Obama's line made no sense on its own, and more when flacks took a mulligan and explained it. Yet Romney's 2012 campaign made it the centerpiece of its late summer push, culminating in the Republican Convention. And to many Republicans, it was an obvious blunder.

"One after another, [business owners] talked about the business they had built," said the 2012 primary runner-up, Santorum, in a 2013 speech. "But not a single—not a single —factory worker went out there."

Romney campaign veterans argue that the line worked, and that it forced the Obama campaign off its game for a little while. In the same vein, Hogan Gidley, who was a spokesman for Santorum (and previously for Mike Huckabee), argued that the Clinton line was attackable.

"It highlights a difference between their party and our party," he said. The problem? "I don’t know if Governor Romney is the best guy to make the distinction. 'You didn’t build that' was one of the worst themes and lines that came out of the 2012 campaign."

The full excerpts from Romney's speech are below:

First, We need to help make the world a safer place. The President's dismissal of real global threats in his State of the Union address was naive at best and deceptive at worst. We have only recently mourned with the people of France. Our hearts likewise go out to the people of Nigeria and Yemen. Hundreds and perhaps thousands were slaughtered by radical jihadists. ISIS represents a new level of threat given its oil revenues, vast territory, and ability to recruit even in the West. I don't know how the President expects to defeat the jihadists if he won't even call them what they are.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cluelessly pressed a reset button for Russia, which smiled and then invaded Ukraine, a sovereign nation. The Middle East and much of North Africa is in chaos. China grows more assertive and builds a navy that will be larger than ours in five years. We shrink our nuclear capabilities as Russia upgrades theirs.

Doesn't the President understand that some of what we are seeing in the world is in part the result of his timid foreign policy, of walking away from his red line in Syria, of paring back our military budget, and of insulting friends like Israel and Poland? Strong American leadership is desperately needed for the world, and for America.

Second, we need to restore opportunity, particularly for the middle class. And that will soon include you--you deserve a job that can repay all you've spent and borrowed to go to college. Short term, our economy is looking up. But it is a lot better for the few, and pretty darn discouraging for the many. Incomes haven't gone up in decades. And I can't count how many recent college graduates I met who expected a high paying job at graduation and instead were waiting tables. 

How can Secretary Clinton provide opportunity for all if she doesn't know where jobs come from in the first place? And how does President Obama expect to make America the best place on earth for businesses, as he promised in his State of the Union address, if he persists in business taxation that is the highest in the developed world, regulations that favor the biggest banks and crush the small ones, a complex and burdensome healthcare plan, and a slanted playing field for unions and trial lawyers. We need a president who will do what it takes to bring more good paying jobs to the placement offices of our college campuses.

And third, we need to lift people out of poverty. Almost every week during my campaign, I met folks who had fallen into poverty as result of an unfortunate event, like losing a job. These folks were almost uniformly optimistic about finding their way back into the middle class. But I also met folks who had been in poverty from generation to generation. These we have to help escape the tragedy and the trap of chronic generational poverty. For fifty years and with trillions of dollars, Washington has fought the war on poverty with failed liberal policies. They haven't made any headway whatsoever. It's finally time to apply conservative policies that improve America's education system, promote family formation and create good-paying jobs.

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