The sharpest exchange at the Republican presidential debate this morning came when Mitt Romney’s rivals attacked for trying to describe himself as something of an accidental politician who served just for a short while before picking back up his business career.
In fact, as both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich noted, Mr. Romney has now spent nearly twenty years in and around politics, and has been saved from a longer career in office only by the fact that he lost election in 1994 and then began running for president in the middle of his first term as Massachusetts governor.
Today at a rally in Rochester, New Hampshire, Mr. Romney doubled down on the claim, casting himself as something of an accidental politician.
“This chance to run for President of the United States, I never imagined I would do it,” he said. “This is just a very strange and unusual thing to be in the middle of. I was just a high school kid with skinny legs like everybody else. I imagined I would be in business all my career. And somehow I backed into the chance to do this.”
Mr. Romney also said that, “There is nothing wrong with spending your entire life in politics. It is just kind of a bubble.”
The former Massachusetts governor and founding partner of Bain Capital described his struggles to make payroll and said that he was worried often about getting fired.
“I learned what it was like to sign the front of the paycheck and not just the back of the paycheck and to know how frightening it is to see whether you can make payroll at the end of the week,” he said, adding. “I know what it is like to worry if you are going to get fired. A couple of times I worried that I was going to get a pink slip.”
Mr. Romney contrasted how as a venture capitalist he was forced to make companies thrive on a tight budget, while government is capable of spending near unlimited sums without worrying about results.
“You know that for a while I worked in venture capital. Now what is that? We would get money from other people and then use that to help start businesses, or sometimes acquire businesses that were in trouble and not doing well and try to make them better,” he said. “And when you have your other people’s money and your own invested in something you are very careful with it.”
Mr. Romney went on to describe how he helped start the office superstore Staples with a $5 million investment and contrasted that with the $530 million President Obama gave to Solyndra, the solar energy company that received government loans before failing and has become a symbol of the Obama administration’s excesses to the right.
Solyndra, Mr. Romney said had “a Taj Mahal where they had their offices” while Bain’s offices were in the back of a shopping mall with a makeshift table for meetings.
“It was the private sector. We were pulling ourselves up in some respects by our bootstraps,” he said.