Capitalism is under attack…in the Republican primary.

If you thought that the GOP was the party more likely to promote the free market as the road to prosperity for the country, then you are as abashed as I am.

But here it is:

GOP Split Over Attacks on Private Equity

That’s a headline on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The article describes the attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, the investment firm he cofounded, as “a proxy for a broader argument about the rough and tumble of market capitalism.”

That argument was inevitable in the general election—indeed, the general election will in part be fought over whether the country still believes in capitalism or wants to move in another direction. Carrie has a great piece on how this could play out that makes the point that most Americans embrace genuine capitalism.

Timothy Carney of the Examiner looks at former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s attacks on Romney and Bain and finds that no unseemly behavior is alleged. If improper actions are dredged up, that is a proper line of attack.

Romney, however, is coming under fire purely for the sin of being a capitalist. Carney says that the line of attack is worthy of Upton Sinclair or a Dennis Kucinich.

Carney writes:

So Romney went into failing companies and tried to save them. When it worked, this not only maximized value for shareholders, it also saved jobs by saving companies. At times, the alternative to laying off a huge chunk of the work force today was laying off the entire work force next month.

Fred Barnes recalls in the Wall Street Journal that when the late Teddy Kennedy attacked Romney is a similar fashion, using laid-off workers in campaign spots, the result was that Romney lost 41 percent to 59 percent. Fair or not, this is an effective line of attack.

Barnes writes:

[T]he Bain angle has a twist today, as the essentially left-wing critique has been adopted by conservative Republicans. It's as if a Democratic challenger to President Obama attacked his health-care plan with arguments borrowed from Republicans and conservatives. As it is, Mr. Obama has no Democratic opponent.

People who lean conservative probably are seeing these attacks as what they are, a desperate attempt to derail a frontrunner. In a general election, however, voters who have a dim view of the capitalist system to begin with will be swayed by ads featuring Romney being assailed for having succeeded by members of his own party.

Barnes says that Romney, who has based much of the rationale for putting him in the White House on his business career, must now come up with a big idea around which to structure his campaign. Barnes acknowledges that the anti-capitalist rhetoric used by Republicans against a Republican may well prove disastrous when the general election rolls around, if Romney is the nominee.