I was offline yesterday and didn’t get a chance to respond to DougJ’s post in the comments, so I wanted to say a little more about why I think that Romney is such a bad candidate for Republicans. It boils down to his tax returns, and how I think they’re going to drive a conversation that’s toxic to him and Republicans.
Reading through yesterday’s comments, it sounds like a lot of you think that the returns are a one or two media cycle story and that Romney’s early release will make them fade away. If that’s true, I’m wrong. But I’m willing to bet that Romney will end up releasing far more that the manicured two returns he’s letting out on Tuesday and that those returns will be the source of a number of candidate- and brand-damaging stories:
“Given all the attention that’s been focused on tax returns, given the distraction that I think they became in these last couple of weeks,” Romney said in the broadcast interview that he would release his 2010 returns and estimates for his 2011 returns at the same time “so there’s not a second release down the road.”
That last part of the quote is a big fat tell. When a politician declares the end of something, it’s almost always the beginning, not the end. If you watch the way John King went after him with the point about his dad releasing 12 years of returns, and how badly the crowd reacted to his answer, I think it’s clear that the media is going to push for more returns. That’s because paying 15% on millions year after year, and hiding income in the Caymans, is an issue even media elites can relate to, because they pay well over double that rate on their fat salaries. It doesn’t take any special research, or even false empathy with the little people, for them to understand that point. So they’re going to keep dogging Mitt on this one, and I think he’ll ultimately release at least as many years of tax returns as Obama has (11 years, counting 2011).
These current and further releases will damage Romney with primary voters as well as voters in the general. For their entire modern history, the Republican Party rhetoric and policy have attracted the voter who feels a deep resentment about paying income tax. Perhaps this voter will look at Romney’s taxes and feel hope that he, too, might someday pay 15% instead of the 25% or 35% he’s paying now, but I doubt it. I think they’ll be as pissed as John King when they learn, for example, that Bain took advantage of a loophole that allows management fees, which are really wages and should be taxed at 35%, to get capital gains (15%) tax treatment.
I agree with DougJ that Newt’s unfavorables are awful, and that he’s an almost certain loser in the general election, but I also think that Mitt’s unfavorables don’t reflect the tax issue. I don’t know if Romney can hit Newt’s lows, but do Republicans really want to nominate someone who so clearly illustrates how their fealty to Grover Nordquist has allowed a few privileged elites to have the same tax rate as a person making $8,700?