Zakaria: Romney’s real problem
Republican U.S. presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (Getty Images)
January 11th, 2012
06:52 PM ET

Zakaria: Romney’s real problem

Editor’s Note: You can now buy episodes of CNN GPS online through iTunes.

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Despite the tea party’s extraordinary energy over the past year, it looks like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will win his party’s nomination.  At the end of the day, Republicans are following a familiar pattern: Nominating the mainstream candidate who has waited his turn. This is the party that’s had a Bush or a Dole on its ticket for 20 years. It’s a party that also had Richard Nixon on its presidential ticket for 20 years.

In 2011-2012, we’ve learned that the tea party’s passion was not enough to change the Republican Party. However, something else is changing the party, and you can see it in the attack ads Romney’s opponents are running against him.

Watch: Why we can’t cut our way back to more jobs.

His opponents have gone against Romney on two levels. First, they have called him a “Massachusetts moderate.” After deploying this epithet, Romney’s opponents point to specific positions of his that deviate from party orthodoxy: Romney’s health care plan is strikingly similar to Obama’s; Romney’s positions on abortion and gays used to be a lot more liberal than they are now; etc.

Even though this seems like a fairly coherent line of attack (Romney has described himself as moderate, after all), it’s not having much traction. Perhaps this is because voters think Romney would be more viable in a general election. Perhaps they feel he has genuinely changed his mind. Or perhaps they don’t care that he’s flip-flopped (I’ve often thought that hardcore activists almost like the fact that you are pandering to them; it gives them a sense of power).

Watch: What’s behind America’s jobless recovery?

Instead, a second line of attack has been gaining traction against Romney – that of Romney as job-killer or Romney as the private equity guy, who buys companies, hollows them out and outsources jobs.

Now it is striking that this attack is coming in a Republican presidential primary. After all, what Romney did while at Bain Capital was classic capitalist “creative destruction.” He took over businesses and tried to make them more productive and efficient. To do so, he often had to shed jobs.

Watch: GPS Special – Getting Back to Work.

Republicans should be celebrating Romney’s prior work as an example of how the market functions – driving out inefficiency, generating productivity and creating a lean, mean capitalist machine.

The fact that Romney’s past has turned into a line of attack tells you that something has changed in America. Even in the Republican Party, there is a huge concern about what globalization and technological change are doing to the average, middle-class American. There is a sense that the system is not working for the median American worker. 

Read: Fareed Zakaria on how to create jobs in America

If you look at job creation over the last 20-25 years in America, you’ll notice that we haven't been able to create any jobs in what is called the “tradable sector” of the economy - those jobs that are subject to global competition. The only jobs we’ve really created have been in industries like health care, government, and construction, which are basically local industries shielded from global competition. You can't outsource the building of a New York skyscraper to a Chinese worker.

America hasn’t been able to create jobs in any sector that’s subject to global and technological pressures. As a result, there is a huge sense of disillusionment, disappointment and pessimism among Americans.

Watch: Why Obama should declare a jobs emergency.

None of the Republicans are addressing this problem centrally. They’re simply talking about cutting government spending as if that is going to solve the problem of creating new industries, opportunities and jobs. Simply cutting government strikes me as a very inadequate response to a massive challenge.

Hopefully during the general election, we’ll have a substantive national debate about how to create jobs in America.

Buy episodes of CNN GPS online through iTunes.

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