I’ve been wondering for months why Mitt Romney’s Republican rivals weren’t going after the former governor’s vulture-capitalist record. It turns out, they were just waiting until crunch time.

To briefly review, Romney got very rich running a private-equity firm, Bain Capital, which broke up companies and laid off American workers. He had considerable success orchestrating leveraged buyouts, seeking taxpayer subsidies, flipping companies quickly for large profits, and making money for investors “even when companies slid into bankruptcy.” Romney, it turns out, is still making millions from the firm he left more than a decade ago.

This is starting to matter. Newt Gingrich took a shot at the Bain record last week; Rick Perry’s campaign has a new spot slamming Romney for “making millions … laying off workers”; and Jon Huntsman’s campaign is following highlighting all the New Hampshire workers who lost their jobs because Romney, at least indirectly, fired them.

This coincides with a very tough AP article, published on Monday, noting the hundreds of layoffs Romney’s firm orchestrated in South Carolina, creating lots of profits for Romney and his investors.

Don’t worry, Romney is aware of all of this — his work at Bain helped derail his Senate campaign in the ’90s — and he has a response ready: his critics are probably communists.

We got our first hint on Sunday, when Romney told Fox News “there’s going to be every effort to put free enterprise on trial.” The Republican candidate was more explicit talking to MSNBC’s Joe Scaborough yesterday:

“That is the nature of free enterprise. If someone thinks they can find a way that every enterprise that one invests in becomes successful, all are successful, why, they are not living in a free enterprise system. They are living in a system like the old Soviet Union where the government insists that everybody adds employment every year, and ultimately the economy suggests that the people become poorer.

“I believe that free enterprise works and I believe that other models have been proven to be failures time and time again. And I was surprised to have Newt Gingrich pick up the story line that came from Barack Obama and the DNC and go on the attack against free enterprise.”

Got that? If anyone in either party has a problem with Romney’s style of ruthless, job-killing business tactics, those critics, he argues, simply don’t accept capitalism. (For the record, the president never “attacked” free enterprise, and he regularly emphasizes that the free market is the greatest engine of economic prosperity in human history. Romney is lying.)

Nevertheless, in Mitt Romney’s eyes, President Obama, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Jon Huntsman might as well be Fidel Castro.

I have no idea if mainstream voters will find this persuasive, but if they have any sense at all, they shouldn’t.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.