Newark Mayor Cory Booker, widely considered a rising star in Democratic politics, raised quite a few eyebrows yesterday when he denounced criticism of Mitt Romney's work at Bain Capital.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Booker said, "[F]rom a very personal level, I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity," adding he's "very uncomfortable with" the recent talk about Bain. Drawing a parallel between attacks on Jeremiah Wright and criticism of Romney's private-sector work, the mayor said, "[T]his kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides."
It was an unexpected, and rather confusing, argument. For one thing, I've seen no evidence of Democrats attacking private equity in general, but rather, criticizing Romney's specific tactics: orchestrating leveraged buyouts, loading up companies with large debts, flipping them quickly for large profits, and treating thousands of laid off workers as collateral damage. For another, Obama isn't running around saying, "Vote for me because I was a member of Wright's church," so comparing Bain criticism to The Ricketts Plan is misplaced.
As reports of Booker's comments spread -- Republicans were promoting them heavily -- the mayor felt the need to clarify matters in a YouTube clip.
It's hard to see this as anything but a reversal. Whereas on "Meet the Press," Booker said in no uncertain terms, "Stop attacking private equity," the mayor said in his clip, "Let me be clear: Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign. He's talked about himself as a job creator. And therefore it is reasonable -- and in fact I encourage it -- for the Obama campaign to examine that record and discuss it. I have no problem with that."
Apparently, upon further reflection, the scrutiny of Bain is less "nauseating" after all.
Booker added, "In fact, I believe that Mitt Romney, in many ways, is not being completely honest with his role and his record even while a businessperson, and is shaping it to serve his political interest -- and not necessary include all the facts of his time there."
The walk-back was no doubt welcome news at President Obama's campaign headquarters, but it may be a while before Booker lives this one down. The Newark mayor has been a popular Obama surrogate, but I suspect his role won't be as high profile going forward.
To be sure, plenty of Booker's constituents work in private equity, so it stands to reason he's going to defend the industry -- though the industry is not itself under attack -- but when the Republican National Committee can exploit the on-air comments of a rising Democratic star, after he undermined one of his own party's key election-year messages, it's easy to imagine Booker riding the bench for a while.
Incidentally, CNBC's Jim Cramer, who's generally not considered an Obama ally, also appeared on "Meet the Press" yesterday and said, "Romney's known as a job destroyer, not a creator.... I think Bain sticks. I think the idea that you bring in Bain, which is what happened in the '80s. They fire a lot of people and that's how they get prosperity for the rich."