5 Rules for Being a Successful Capitalist in Politics

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Notwithstanding Mitt Romney's struggles, businessmen can have smooth electoral sailing -- if they follow certain rules.

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Reuters

If there's one thing this presidential campaign has driven home, it's that not all kinds of capitalism are created equal when it comes to politics.

The first indicators came during the Republican primaries, when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry attacked Bain Capital-style capitalism. Perry even branded onetime Bain CEO Mitt Romney a vulture capitalist. The season has moved on -- in fact, Perry campaigned for Romney last week in Elk City, Nevada -- and the rhetoric has subsided.

But the reality is turning out to be quite problematic for Romney. Some kinds of free enterprise -- such as a small family business -- are perfect resume entries for a political candidate. But certain kinds of high-flying capitalism come across as cold-blooded and indecipherable, and they're vulnerable to attack. Anything that involves the phrase "creative destruction," for instance, would be risky.

What Romney is going through now is an experience neither major party may want to repeat. So if you are interested in running for president, here's how to preserve your future viability:

  1. Get rich the old-fashioned way. Create a product or service or business. Write a best-seller, like President Obama did. Run a successful company, like Herman Cain did. Jump on a trend early, like Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who saw the potential of cell phones.
  2. When you file your tax returns, imagine they will be on the homepages of every website in the world. Be prepared to defend your low tax rate and explain how you've used your untaxed money to create jobs. Alternatively, say you'd like to change the tax code so people like you pay more.
  3. Related: Keep your money in the United States. Do not shelter income in Switzerland, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands or anywhere else. Repeat: keep the money at home.
  4. If you have a lot of money, give away a lot of money. Think Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. If you have enough excess cash, you might be able to help eradicate AIDS or revolutionize inner city education. Tithing to your church and creating trusts for your kids don't count.
  5. When you leave a position, leave the position. Make a clean break. If you don't, you will have a hard time arguing you are not responsible for what happened after you kinda-sorta departed, but were still CEO and sole owner. Sure, you may not be able to claim credit for good things that happen after you're gone. But you won't be on the hook for developments that are politically unpalatable, and possibly a serious threat to your presidential hopes.
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Jill Lawrence is a national correspondent at National Journal. She was previously a columnist at Politics Daily, national political correspondent at USA Today and national political writer at the Associated Press.

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