Sometimes, it’s possible to gain and lose the moral high ground very quickly.
When reporters shout intemperate questions at a candidate near Pilsudski Square in Warsaw, the candidate has gained the high ground. When the candidate’s aide tells the reporters, “Kiss my ass” and “Shove it,” the candidate has lost the high ground.
Similarly, Mitt Romney had the high ground when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made unfounded allegations about the Republican’s tax returns. And yet, he somehow managed to cede the high ground soon after.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Reid claimed he’d heard from a Bain Capital investor that Romney hadn’t paid income taxes for 10 years. Which investor? Reid didn’t say. Why should anyone take the claim seriously? Reid couldn’t say. He heard a rumor, and he’s passing it along.
Team Romney was furious and they had a point. The discourse can’t work this way — prominent officials need to be responsible when making attacks, and not just throw around second-hand innuendo, as if presidential candidates have a responsibility to respond to every unsupported rumor.
Romney had the high ground against a cheap shot. And then he gave it away.
“It’s time for Harry to put up or shut up,” Romney said on Sean Hannity’s radio show. [...]
“Harry’s gonna have to describe who it is he spoke with because of course that’s totally and completely wrong,” Romney said Thursday in the radio interview. “It’s untrue, dishonest and inaccurate. It’s wrong. So I’m looking forward to have Harry reveal his sources and we’ll probably find out that it’s the White House.”
Is that so. Does Reid have any proof that Romney failed to pay taxes for 10 years? No, it’s just an unsubstantiated allegation that Reid carelessly pushed in the media. And does Romney have any proof that the White House is Reid’s secret source behind the attack? No, it’s just an unsubstantiated allegation that Romney carelessly pushed in the media. High ground, lost.
As for “put up or shut up,” is this really the phrase the guy who has been hiding his tax returns wants to use?
In recent weeks, Romney and his campaign spokespersons have claimed he always followed the law when paying his taxes and never paid an income tax rate of 0%. Romney also told a national television audience he’d be “happy to go back and look” to see how many years, if any, he paid a rate under 13.9%.
But these boasts are as dubious as Reid’s irresponsible claims — Romney has effectively told Americans we’re simply supposed to take his defense on faith. He could bolster his own rhetoric about his tax history with documented proof, but for reasons he can’t explain, Romney doesn’t want to.
The message: just take his word for it. And what about his willingness to happily go back and look at his paid income tax rates? Apparently, Romney intends to break this commitment just days after making it.
This is not how one keeps the moral high ground.
For Reid’s part, the Senate Majority Leader issued a statement last night that stands by the original allegations.
“There is a controversy because the Republican presidential nominee, Governor Mitt Romney, refuses to release his tax returns. As I said before, I was told by an extremely credible source that Romney has not paid taxes for ten years. People who make as much money as Mitt Romney have many tricks at their disposal to avoid paying taxes. We already know that Romney has exploited many of these loopholes, stashing his money in secret, overseas accounts in places like Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.
“Last weekend, Governor Romney promised that he would check his tax returns and let the American people know whether he ever paid a rate lower than 13.9 percent. One day later, his campaign raced to say he had no intention of putting out any further information.
“When it comes to answering the legitimate questions the American people have about whether he avoided paying his fair share in taxes or why he opened a Swiss bank account, Romney has shut up. But as a presidential candidate, it’s his obligation to put up, and release several years’ worth of tax returns just like nominees of both parties have done for decades.
“It’s clear Romney is hiding something, and the American people deserve to know what it is. Whatever Romney’s hiding probably speaks volumes about how he would approach issues that directly impact middle-class families, like tax reform and the economy. When you are running for president, you should be an open book.
“I understand Romney is concerned that many people, Democrats and Republicans, have been calling on him to release his tax returns. He has so far refused. There is only one thing he can do to clear this up, and that’s release his tax returns.”
The issue isn’t going away.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 3, 2012
“Demented Dominion”: Jim DeMint Claims Romney Personally Pledged Support For Pushing Tea Party Agenda In First 100 Days
Senator Jim DeMint is all smiles. Ted Cruz’s upset victory in Texas’s Republican Senate primary means the conservative wing of the GOP conference, a bloc the second-term lawmaker from South Carolina shepherds, will almost certainly increase its ranks.
“This confirms that there is a new political reality,” DeMint tells National Review Online in an interview in his office. “The people who are winning, for the Senate particularly, are those who are telling Americans the truth.”
Political observers expect Cruz, should he win in November, to join DeMint’s coalition of tea-party favorites, which includes Senator Mike Lee of Utah, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, among others.
DeMint agrees that Cruz would be an ally, but he emphasizes that he is looking for an ideological partner, not a political loyalist. Cruz’s rise has not whetted DeMint’s ambitions. “I have no intention of running for leader,” he says, when asked whether he will challenge Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader. “I’ve been a leader ever since I walked in the Senate door. You don’t have to be elected to lead.”
Besides, DeMint says, McConnell sees the signals coming out of Texas, Indiana, and other states where tea-party candidateshave won. And as a savvy operator, McConnell is probably not looking to buck the newcomers.
“Elected leaders carry an important administrative function, but they are going to reflect the conference,” DeMint tells me. “If the conference is moving in the right direction, our leaders will move in the right direction.”
A week ago, DeMint traveled to Texas, where he stumped for Cruz alongside former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Standing with the youthful contender and Palin in Houston in front of thousands of voters was “pretty emotional,” DeMint recalls. “For so long, the party bosses controlled all the money and picked the candidates, pretty much deciding who they would run as a Republican.” These days, thanks to conservative activists and the rise of the Tea Party, “that has totally changed.”
Last summer, DeMint was one of the first conservative leaders to endorse Cruz, who was then an unknown. DeMint weighed in early to send a message to his fellow Republicans. “There is not enough urgency around here,” he says, commenting on Capitol Hill’s ongoing fiscal debate. “But when I got to know Ted, it became clear that he is ready to make the hard choices — and they’ll need to be made.”
DeMint already has a legislative plan ready for Cruz’s arrival. “If we get the [Senate] majority and the White House, we have got to pass a budget that sets up the structure, through reconciliation, to repeal Obamacare by killing the mandate,” he says. He also wants to “totally redo our tax code,” put “Medicare on a sustainable course,” and “deal with Social Security.” But should Republicans win then stumble, “it’d be betrayal to our country.”
“We need to do it in the first 100 days,” DeMint says. “[Mitt] Romney has told me, face to face, that he knows that he needs to get these things done right away. He is looking at this as a one-term proposition.”
DeMint acknowledges that reform faces many hurdles, but come January, the 60-year-old senator is optimistic that he’ll have a slew of tea-party senators ready to help. “Ted Cruz, Richard Mourdock, Deb Fischer, hopefully Mark Neumann, these folks will hopefully come in and bring a lot of closet conservatives in the Republican party out in the open,” DeMint chuckles. “Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Lee — they have the sense of urgency. But they are outnumbered.”
“If we get four or five more like them, it will embolden a lot of [Senate] Republicans who are conservative at heart, but got into a business-as-usual rut and don’t want to rock the boat,” DeMint says. “Now, if they see the boat rocking, I think it might help us.”
By: Robert Costa, National Review, August 2, 2012
Last Friday, the Obama campaign released an ad in several swing states attacking Mitt Romney for his stance on abortion. “It’s a scary time to be a woman—Mitt Romney is just so out of touch,” says a woman named Jenni. A narrator explains that Mitt Romney opposes requiring insurance coverage for contraceptives, supports overturning Roe v. Wade, and once backed a bill that would outlaw all abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. The ad concludes: “We need to attack our problems, not a woman’s choice.”
In recent elections, presidential candidates have been wary of diving into explosive abortion politics; in 2008, only $4 million was spent on abortion-related advertising, compared with $39 million on budget-related ads or $88 million on environmental ones. It’s an issue the public remains divided on. According to Gallup, the proportion of Americans identifying as “pro-choice” hit a record low of 41 percent this year, while those describing themselves as “pro-life” hovered around 50 percent. “The minute you take positions on the abortion issue, there are a lot of people you’re alienating,” explains Susan Carroll, a Senior Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “Usually, candidates try to run away from the issue.” So why is the Obama campaign running toward it?
One reason might be to remind voters of the “War on Women.” Republican lawmakers’ and presidential candidates’ ugly policy proposals this spring—forcing vaginal ultrasounds, defunding Planned Parenthood, weakening the Violence Against Women Act, fighting access to contraception—created an opportunity for Democrats to shave off women voters from the GOP. President Obama had the support of fewer than half of women under 50 in February; by April he was polling above 60 percent, outgunning Romney 2-to-1. But the gap has narrowed in recent months. The Obama ad serves both to remind women of the GOP’s recent history and to tie Romney to the attack on reproductive rights.
Still, the question remains why the Obama campaign didn’t stick to safer ground, focusing on the GOP’s attacks on contraception or maternity care—both broadly unpopular. The answer lies in the Republican Party’s shift to the right. A decade ago, between 30 and 40 percent of Republicans identified as pro-choice. This May, that number was a scant 22 percent. It’s hard to know whether that’s the result of Republicans changing their minds about abortion, or pro-choice respondents ceasing to identify as Republicans. But the result is the same: The party is increasingly uniform in its opposition to abortion.
This, in turn, has opened up an opportunity for Democrats. For most Americans, the abortion question is not all-or-nothing—it’s about where one draws the line. Opinion polling on abortion is highly sensitive to phrasing; despite a majority of the country identifying as “pro-life,” polls also consistently show that a majority of respondents supports access to abortion in at least some circumstances. Politicians have been walking this tightrope for years—“I’m personally pro-life but believe in a woman’s right to choose”; “I believe the issue should be left up to the states to decide”; “Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.” With the GOP moving further to the right, a wider space has opened for Democrats to pick up abortion moderates. As Ed Kilgore wrote in Washington Monthly earlier this year, if a woman’s right to choose continues to be eroded around the country, it could become more likely that the quiet pro-choice sentiments of the American majority will emerge as a political force.
Romney, meanwhile, is feeling the squeeze. His campaign has disputed the charge that the former Massachusetts governor wants to ban abortion in all circumstances, pointing to remarks he’s made that he supports exceptions for rape, incest, and maternal health. But Romney is limited in how forcefully he can counter the Obama team’s claims lest he upset the conservative base. It’s the basic problem Romney faces across the board: He must appease absolutists while still appearing reasonable enough for the general election. It’s a balancing act the Republican Party’s standardbearers are going to have to struggle with as long as the party champions ideological purity.
By: Daniel Townsend, The American Prospect, August 2, 2012
It’s all too easy to hyperventilate about the importance of this or that campaign development in an electorate where swing voters are few and pay little attention to the news, but Mitt Romney appears to have blundered his way into a bona fide political disaster with his tax plan. Republican policy elites and fund-raisers fervently believe, for both moral and economic reasons, in the paramount necessity of cutting taxes for the rich. This position is, however, a political trap; the vast majority of Americans want taxes on the rich to be higher, not lower, and the commitment to cutting taxes on the rich further requires larger entitlement cuts or higher middle class taxes, both of which are more unpopular still.
At the outset of his campaign, Romney tried to avoid committing himself, but by February, with GOP rivals outflanking him and facing steady pressure from Republican elites, he declared himself in favor of a 20 percent tax cut, a move greeted with joy from anti-tax activists. But he still attempted to hide the ball. Romney promised that his rate cut would be matched by closing tax deductions and some unspecified allowance for economic growth, and thus would not decrease the level (or the share) of taxes paid by the rich. Romney’s boast that his plan could not be scored revealed the essential calculation. But the campaign miscalculated. Yesterday’s study by the Brookings Institution and the Tax Policy Center showed that, even allowing for the faster growth predicted by Romney’s own economist, there aren’t enough tax deductions to account for the cost of the lower rates for the rich — raising taxes for the middle class would be the only way to make Romney’s promises add up. Romney didn’t hide the ball well enough.
Romney’s play here is to turn the study’s findings into a matter of partisan dispute. It has mustered two arguments. The first is that the Brookings study cannot be trusted because its authors are biased. (Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom called the study a “joke.”) The Weekly Standard pushes this line, noting that one of its authors visited the White House twelve times. Unfortunately, Romney’s campaign itself once cited the Tax Policy Center (accurately) as “objective,” and its findings are basically simple math.
Romney’s second argument is more convoluted. The study examined the effects of Romney’s income tax proposals. He has also promised to reform the corporate tax code. Romney policy advisor Lanhee Chen argued yesterday that Romney corporate tax reforms could increase economic growth even more. So, even though the study allowed for optimistic growth assumptions of the income tax cuts, it didn’t also allow for optimistic assumptions of the corporate tax cuts.
Of course, Romney doesn’t really have a corporate tax reform plan. He says basically the same thing everybody says. The corporate tax code is filled with deductions and loopholes. The statutory rate (35 percent) is unusually high by international standards, but the effective rate is unusually low. We could lower the rate to, say, 28 percent, close a bunch of deductions and loopholes, and have a fairer tax code. That’s what Romney endorses, and it’s also what Obama endorses.
But the whole trick here is assembling an actual legislative coalition to pass a tax reform plan. The whole problem is that companies that benefit from loopholes and deductions lobby to keep them. Romney isn’t offering a policy blueprint for what deductions he would take away, let alone a plausible scenario to pass such a plan even if it did exist. He’s just using the mystical economic pixie dust of the nonexistent corporate tax reform plan in order to hold out the hope of some missing ingredient, some unmeasurable X factor, to keep his proposal in the safe dreamworld where the cruel tyranny of math cannot apply.
But the math is inescapable. When Romney looks back at the positions he adopted during the Republican primary — the hard line on immigration, the embrace of Paul Ryan — his pander to supply-siders may loom as his largest mistake.
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, August 2, 2012