Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney is taking a lot of heat from his Republican rivals, who question just how successful he has really been in turning small businesses into major job-creating enterprises.

These are companies that were not well known at the time but have since become household names like Staples, the office supply store, one of his earliest investments. Romney and Bain Capital, the venture capital company he co-founded, plowed $4.5 million into the tiny business begun by two entrepreneurs in Brighton, Mass. in 1986.

Staples has since grown to over 2,000 stores in 26 countries, employing thousands of people.

Romney and his partners raised the capital they used to invest from private investors, and their success with Staples provided them with additional resources to invest in other entrepreneurs to expand their enterprises.

Bain grew, and in the process it hired a lot of business analysts and other support personnel. The companies they invested in or acquired in buyout deals became hugely successful enterprises: Domino's Pizza, Sealy, Sports Authority, Dunkin' Donuts, Toys R Us, Burger King and countless other firms whose expansion over the years have created thousands of jobs.

But venture capital investing and acquisitions is a risky business, and not all of the deals worked out. Even in the best of times, about half of all small businesses close within the first five years.

So some of Bain's investments failed and went bankrupt and people lost their jobs. That's what Newt Gingrich and other GOP candidates are pointing to in their desperate, demagogic attacks on Romney's record in the business world.

Gingrich, the former speaker who has spent most of his adult life living on the government's payroll, says he's for capitalism, but not when investors can profit from their failures anyway, and "go off with millions; that's not traditional capitalism."

Well, sometimes it is. The assets of a failed company have to be sold, and the investors who lent the money are often first in line to be paid back.

But Gingrich isn't just accusing Romney of sometimes picking investments that failed; he accuses him of stealing from a Kansas City steel mill that eventually failed.

"You would certainly have to say that Bain, at times, engaged in behavior where they looted a company, leaving behind 1,700 unemployed people," Gingrich said during Sunday's candidate debate on "Meet the Press."

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.