Romney Comes Under Fire in S.C. Debate

Romney Comes Under Fire in S.C. Debate

By Erin McPike and Scott Conroy - January 17, 2012

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Mitt Romney's character came under scrutiny Monday night in a Fox News Channel/Wall Street Journal debate that seemed like a dry run for the attacks President Obama will lob his way should the front-runner win the Republican nomination.

From charges of flip-flopping to his long-held stance against releasing his tax returns to recent attacks on his record in business and complaints about the super PAC supporting him, Romney wore the bull's eye all night, the target of both his four remaining opponents and the moderators.

Rick Perry, for example, zeroed in on Romney’s tax records: “Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax so the people of this country can see how you made your money.” He went on, “Listen, here's the real issue for us: As Republicans, we cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now. So I hope you'll put your tax records out there this week so the people of South Carolina can take a look and decide if, you know, we've got a flawed candidate or not.”

Asked again later whether he will fall in line like recent nominees and release his tax returns -- an action he said last month that he’s unlikely to take -- Romney noted that John McCain and George W. Bush released theirs in April -- during “tax season.” Saying he was not opposed to following that tradition, he added, “I think I've heard enough from folks saying, ‘Look, let's see your tax records.’ I have nothing in them that suggests there's any problem and I'm happy to do so.”

He reiterated his oft-repeated lines about flip-flopping, saying that most critics think of his changed position on social issues such as abortion; he then explained how he came to his current pro-life stance. And he repeated to Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both of whom have complained relentlessly about inaccuracies in ads a pro-Romney super PAC has run against them, that if the ads are false, they ought to be corrected or taken down -- but that he has no power over the group, Restore Our Future.

The biggest assault on his record has come during the last 10 days. Critics on both sides of the aisle have said that some of the businesses he oversaw as a venture capitalist in Boston hemorrhaged jobs while his firm collected enormous profit. Given a chance to explain whether the business model was flawed, Romney first revised his original number to say that Bain Capital’s actions resulted in 120,000 new jobs, up from 100,000 that he previously claimed. And then he asserted that his record of success is why he was picked to run the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, and thereafter to run for governor of Massachusetts.

Nevertheless, many of Romney’s answers were roundly criticized by analysts during and after the debate, even though he seemed to avoid any significant damage to his juggernaut campaign.

The Democratic National Committee issued a series of statements fact-checking Mitt Romney’s claims throughout the debate, including his charge that President Obama does not have a jobs plan and Romney’s assertion that he would veto the DREAM Act.

Still, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, acknowledging the gauntlet that Romney was forced to run, said, “When Mitt Romney can come out of that kind of environment unscathed, it’s a big victory for him.”

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Erin McPike and Scott Conroy are national political reporters for RealClearPolitics. Erin can be reached at Scott can be reached at

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