Will Mitt Romney Go Down in History as a Joke?Posted: July 16, 2012
It’s beginning to look that way. Mitt’s dad, George Romney, was ridiculed because of an offhand remark he made about being “brainwashed” by the military on a trip he took to Vietnam. By the time he ran for President in 1968, George had decided the Vietnam war was a mistake. He explained his change on mind on the war by explaining that in hindsight he realized he had fallen for propaganda.
Ironically, George Romney’s change of heart apparently was an honorable one: he had changed his mind and wasn’t afraid to admit that he had made a mistake previously. As we’ve heard endlessly over the past couple of weeks, George Romney also released 12 years of his tax returns, because he believed it was only fair to let the American people see what he had earned and what he had paid in taxes over an extended period of time. But George Romney is mostly remembered for the “brainwashing” comment and the ridicule surrounding it.
Now George’s son Mitt Romney is following his father’s footsteps in running for President. Mitt Romney, too, has become known for changing his mind–not just one issue, but on practically every issue. And after a bruising couple of weeks of damaging articles about his career at Bain Capital, he is facing more and more questions from the Obama campaign and from the media about his personal finances and why he will not release his tax returns. Even Republicans like Bill Kristol, George Will, and Matthew Dowd have called for Mitt to get it over with and release more years of returns.
People are beginning to speculate about why Mitt is being so stubborn about refusing to release any of his tax returns before 2010. George Will suggested on ABC’s This Week that that Romney is fearful that whatever is in his returns will make him look worse than he does in insisting on keeping them secret.
“The cost of not releasing the returns are [sic] clear,” Will said. “Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”
Also on This Week, Matthew Dowd was, if anything, harder on Romney than George Will was.
Political strategist and ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd said “there’s obviously something there” in Romney’s tax returns that he doesn’t want to release publicly, adding that Romney’s refusal to produce his prior returns was a sign of “arrogance.”
“There’s obviously something there, because if there was nothing there, he would say, ‘Have at it,’” Dowd said. “So there’s obviously something there that compromises what he said in the past about something.”
“Many of these politicians think, ‘I can do this. I can get away with this. I don’t need to do this, because I’m going to say something and I don’t have to do this,’” Dowd added. “If he had 20 years of ‘great, clean, everything’s fine,’ it’d all be out there, but it’s arrogance.”
Now it’s the beginning of a new week, and Mitt Romney is still stubbornly refusing to expose his tax records to examination by the press and the public. This is killing his candidacy, and yet he won’t give in. What is he hiding?
At the New Yorker, John Cassidy offers four possible reasons:
1. Romney’s income before 2010 was “extremely high.”
2. “More offshore accounts” beyond the ones we already know about.
3. “Politically explosive investments”
4. “A very, very low tax rate.”
(You can read the details of Cassidy’s speculation at the link.)
Could it be any of those reasons? We already know Romney is very wealthy, and we know about a lot of his offshore accounts. We already know that Bain invested in Stericycle, a company that disposes of aborted fetuses. Might Romney have more embarrassing personal investments? I suppose it’s possible that Romney could have paid no taxes for several years, and that is what he’s hiding. But I think it has to be something more. Why else would Romney and his staff allow him to sustain so much damage his campaign–especially because the questions won’t end until he release the returns. What is it that he doesn’t want us to find out?
Even The New York Times editorial chastised Romney today.
After three days of Mitt Romney complaining about attacks on his record at Bain Capital, it’s clear that President Obama has nothing to apologize for. If Mr. Romney doesn’t want to provide real answers to the questions about his career, he had better develop a thicker skin.
Mr. Romney’s descriptions of when he left Bain have been erratic and self-serving. In 2002, when he needed to show he was still a Massachusetts resident, he denied he had quit in 1999, saying he had taken a leave of absence to run the Olympics committee. A series of documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Committee show that Bain certainly didn’t describe him as absent after 1999.
There’s only one way to deal with this.
The right way to respond to Mr. Obama is to release his tax returns from that period, or open up Bain documents. But Mr. Romney told CNN he would not release more than the one year’s return he has already released and the one for 2011 when it is finished. “That’s all that’s necessary for people to understand something about my finances,” he said. It’s not even close.
I think it’s likely that Romney has longed to run for President in order to achieve the goal his father failed to reach. I’m sure that Mitt wanted to avoid the kind of ridicule his father suffered for an offhand comment. But let’s face it. Mitt’s situation is much more embarrassing than what happened to his father. Mitt looks incredibly weak at this point. He’s starting to become a joke. The Obama campaign has successfully painted him as an out-of-touch rich guy, a tax evader who may have committed perjury in SEC filings. As John Marshall wrote on Friday, in a post titled “Weak, weak, weak,”
There’s a meta-politics Obama is playing by slashing at Romney with suggestions he might be a felon. He’s wounding Romney, who is clearly rattled and angry about the charges, but just as clearly can’t defend himself or strike back. As I’ve noted many times, a thick layer of presidential politics (in a way that’s distinct from US politics at really every other level) resides at the brainstem level of cogitation — with gambits to assert power and demonstrate dominance. Obama looked in control of this situation; Romney didn’t….
This is and will remain a low single digit race. But the President’s team is making Romney look shifty and silly and weak. (I half expect them to start goosing surrogates to call him Slick Willard.) And they’re well on their way to defining him in a way that will be difficult to undo.
Romney supporter David Frum responded to Marshall’s column at The Daily Beast:
Marshall’s column is titled “Weak, weak, weak,” and it puts its finger on a core weakness of Romney as a candidate. It’s not just his arguments that are weak. For the past year, we have watched him be pushed around by the radical GOP fringe. He’s been forced to abjure his most important achievement as governor, his healthcare plan. In December, he was compelled to sign onto the Ryan budget plan after months of squirming to avoid it. Last fall he released an elaborate economic plan. On the eve of the Michigan primary, he ripped it up and instead accepted a huge new tax cut – to a top rate of 28% – that has never been costed (and that he now tries to avoid mentioning whenever he can). Romney has acknowledged in interviews that he understands that big rapid cuts in government spending could push the US economy back into recession. Yet he campaigns anyway on the Tea Party’s false promise that it’s the deficit that causes the depression, rather than (as he well knows) the other way around.
Frum originally had high hopes for Romney as someone who could help reverse the descent of the Republican party into ultra-right wing craziness:
A big majority of this country is rightly frightened and appalled by what the congressional Republican party has become over the past four years: a radical cadre willing to push the nation over the cliff into utterly unnecessary national default in order to score a political point.
But Romney has simply capitulated on every issue. Weak.
Late last night, Josh Marshall wrote that Romney is in serious danger of simply turning into a joke.
The Obama campaign is hitting this so hard to take a series of associations and embed them so deeply into voters’ consciousness that they become inseparable from the mention of the phrase ‘Bain Capital’. Those are ‘joke’, ‘liar’, ‘felon’, ‘retroactively retired’, ‘SEC filings’, ‘Caymans’, ‘whiner’, ‘buck stops here’, ‘hiding something’.
You can spin these out forever. But beyond all the specific accusations, they’re painting a picture that makes Romney look ridiculous, like a joke. They’re making Romney look stupid and powerless on the front where he believes he’s one of the standouts of his generation. And that’s plain lethal for a presidential candidate.
Marshall says it they haven’t quite succeeded yet, but they’re getting there. I agree with him. Whatever is in those tax returns must be very bad. The only other alternative I can think of is that Mitt Romney is incredibly stupid and arrogant.
What do you think?