On Tuesday, Mitt Romney finally gave into the heat from Newt Gingrich and released his most recent tax returns (from 2010).
Unsurprisingly for somebody who made his bones in the shady world of private equity, Mitt’s returns showed a whole lot of pay ($23 million) and not a lot of payback (14%). Obviously, the ridiculous tax rate (and income for an unemployed guy) has caused much comment. And, given that Mitt was part of the lobbying effort to keep capital gains taxes so low, his “I just pay what they tell me” stance is especially obscene.
But, what should really worry Republicans isn’t Romney’s exploitation of our soak-the-poor tax structure… it’s that he didn’t see this coming.
Mitt Romney has been running for President since at least 2007, or pretty much the length of our financial crisis. In that time, he’s tried to add an air of inevitability, if not likeability. In that time, the Tea Party has risen, and public opinion of those in the financial sector has plummeted. And, somehow, Mitt hasn’t noticed any of it.
For a long time, Romney stated that he would release his returns in April, which he claimed is “when it’s traditionally done”. Obviously, he’s gamed his 2011 income to show less money and a higher rate. But, the fact that he thought he could get away with that is telling in its arrogance.
This is the worst possible era for somebody who made his fortune by exploiting government structures to help the rich to run for office. If Romney had just jumped into the race, this lack of foresight might be forgivable. But he’s been running in the 2012 election since December of 2008. Either his advisers are as cloistered from public opinion as he is, or he cared more about saving money than taking their advice. Now, I know the uberrich throw around nickels like manhole covers, but it certainly illustrates Romney’s priorities.
Romney passed up a golden political opportunity in order to hold on to some extra millions. Instead of contributing to the lobbyists that quashed the bipartisan forces trying to make capital gain taxes more fair in 2007, he could have joined the movement. Even if he didn’t see it before the financial collapse, by, say, 2010, he should have seen the way the wind was blowing. Instead of being outflanked by Newt Gingrich (a hilarious choice for a family-values, populist candidate, but that’s another story), he could have countered his image as a cold-hearted banker. Sure, some Republican (probably Newt, if that was the lane open to him) could have hammered him for “raising taxes”, but it’s been obvious for a while that the prevailing force in the 2012 Republican party was the anti-Wall Street Tea Party. Given that Romney could have presented it as choosing fairness over self-interest, it wouldn’t have hurt him much. Given the antipathy Wall Street has toward Obama, it’s not like their money wouldn’t have gone with one of their own (especially if he gave them a wink that he wasn’t going to do it anyway). Given the fact that he’s now fighting off a twice-divorced psychopath who’s somehow convinced people with no memory that he’s a Speaker of the People, it was a missed opportunity.
Even if he didn’t go that route, that Romney waited until he was backed into a corner to release his returns, on the eve of a Florida primary that could actually make this a protracted race, shows a stunning lack of political acumen. If he knew he was going to take heat anyway (which he should have), why try to slither to April (which he was never going to get away with) instead of releasing the returns when nobody was paying attention and take the hit in Iowa?
But, of course, giving away millions is not what people like Mitt Romney do. They fight reform to tax breaks to the rich with an army of lobbyists and then complain that the poor get too many handouts.