John Nichols/The Nation
It is fair to say that few candidates in modern history have done themselves more damage than did Mitt Romney’s “crack” campaign team when it decided to release the candidate’s tax returns on the day that President Obama was delivering a State of the Union address about tax fairness.
If Romney has not fired the “genius” who suggested the idea of releasing the returns on SOTU day—apparently in hopes the news that Romney was only paying at a 13.9 percent rate would be overshadowed by the presidential pronouncement—he should do so.
The miscalculation on the part of Romney and his campaign was startling. Instead of avoiding the spotlight on an issue that is severely damaging to his candidacy—both as a contender for the Republican nomination and, should he survive the trial by Newt, as the party’s candidate in a fall race with Obama—he stepped right into it.
Romney’s bad timing made him Exhibit A in the national debate about why the the billionaires and millionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries.
Or, as the Los Angeles Times headline put it: “Romney tax returns highlight tax code’s breaks for rich.”
That’s bad for Romney.
But he is not the only 1 Percenter who is threatened.
If America is entering a new populist moment, where the slogan “Tax the Rich” is dusted off by Democratic candidates, and perhaps even a few Republicans, the filthiest of the filthy rich might have to clean up their acts.
Or, to be more precise, they might have to pay their fair share.
If the program Obama is promoting gets traction, Romney’s tax burden would double.
And, while we are only talking degrees of guilt here, Romney actually pays more taxes than a lot of the other guys at the country club.
So this raises a question: Do the CEOs, the investment bankers and the hedge fund managers who form the real base of the Republican Party—as the funders of GOP candidates and the Super PACs that sustain them—really want to nominate a candidate whose very presence at the top of the ticket guarantees that the lifestyles of the rich and contemptuous will be a 2012 campaign issue?
Are they feeling that lucky?
If not, they’re going to be looking elsewhere, especially if William Jennings Gingrich wins next Tuesday’s Florida primary. There will not be a groundswell among the monied elites for Gingrich. He’s toxic. But the roadblock he is creating to Romney opens up the prospect that Republican powerbrokers might be able to create a new candidacy come convention time.
Gingrich’s sweep of the South Carolina primary last Saturday made Romney damaged goods.
But the tax returns fiasco has done the former front-runner’s prospects even more damage.
And as the damage was being done, there was Mitch Daniels looking all presidential for his State of the Union response.
Don’t think the people who write big checks to Republican candidates in order to avoid writing big checks to the IRS failed to notice.