Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bare Knuckle Politics: Harry Reid's Accusation

There is one question, Inspector Callahan: Why do they call you "Dirty Harry"? --Gonzales, Dirty Harry
Harry Reid announced yesterday that some mystery-man had tipped him off that Mitt Romney had paid NO taxes for the last 10 years.
Saying he had "no problem with somebody being really, really wealthy," Reid sat up in his chair a bit before stirring the pot further. A month or so ago, he said, a person who had invested with Bain Capital called his office.

"Harry, he didn't pay any taxes for 10 years," Reid recounted the person as saying.
"He didn't pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain," said Reid. "But obviously he can't release those tax returns. How would it look?
Now this is, to my mind, obviously what we would call in the political field a lie. It has all the hallmarks of a blatant falsehood. Does everyone at Bain Capital know what Romney pays in taxes? Do clients? Is that, like, part of Bain marketing material ('... And if you invest like us, like our CEO, you might pay no taxes!'). Clearly not.

The whole thing is framed with careful deniability. Comming from Reid rather than a direct Obama surrogate it even lets the president (kinda) off the hook for the absurd allegation. This happens in tandem with a 1:30 minute attack ad that focuses on the tax returns.It's a tough ad that highlights Romney's own words on the subject making him look, well, dodgy.

You can watch the ad here.

What Does It Mean?
This is political hardball: Romney has a weakness--the ad raises questions. Then the discussion from the D-side doubles down:
But there is limited political downside to the type of open speculation that Reid is making, so long as Romney refuses to budge on the issue of his tax returns. Increasingly, other Democrats are growing more assertive in their goading. In an appearance at the Center for American Progress on Tuesday, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland argued that he could openly speculate as to whether Romney "is a tax avoider" or "cheat" because "his behavior invites such speculation."
One would assume that, given a group of experts on his side, surely Team Romney must have known this was coming. These questions were, after all, raised pointedly during the Republican primary. While there was, probably, only so far a fellow Republican could go since this is seen as an "attack on wealth" by many in the GOP,  everyone knew that Obama was under no such restriction.

So Romney has had like four months--really more--to get ready for this. What's their plan? Silence? I'm-a-not-gonna-do-it? The problem with that is that it cedes the field to the democrats ... and the press.
It's not as if the Obama campaign spoke to its spear-carriers in the press and said, "Why aren't you covering Romney's taxes?"
And it's not like they said back, "Well, we did, but to really make it an issue we need a predicate, we need some hook to justify covering it."
Case in point: A (source-so-thinly it's clearly bullshit) HuffPo article holds that if Romney had thought he'd have to release his tax returns he'd never have run for president:
Mitt Romney has been determined to resist releasing his tax returns at least since his bid for Massachusetts governor in 2002 and has been confident that he will never be forced to do so, several current and former Bain executives tell The Huffington Post. Had he thought otherwise, say the sources based on their longtime understanding of Romney, he never would have gone forward with his run for president.
As I said, that sounds worse than iffy--but the specter is telling: Romney has dug in--which will make any shift in position unpalatable. It's also noted that potential VP picks have been mum about their taxes. Only Rubio has released multiple years and those have vanished from his website:
Of the five VP picks considered most likely, Sen. Marco Rubio is the only one who has disclosed multiple tax returns. During his 2010 Senate run, Rubio released nine years of data from 2000 to 2009. But the move was short-lived; the pages can no longer be found on his campaign website and now only exist in the annals of newspaper articles and blog posts.
What Do I Think?
I think there is a possibility that, in fact, Romney did not see this coming. By this I mean Harry Reid making up the "some guy called me" story in order to unload an absurdly damaging allegation with a very high profile. It's an audacious move and it might be unexpected. In fact, I'd kind of hope it was--because while that would mean Team Romney is naive (to think that Team Obama wouldn't do anything to turn the pressure up) it is better than the converse: the other possibility is that Team Romney did know this would happen and have assessed that no matter what the allegation the real returns are even worse.


  1. > Team Romney did know this would happen and have assessed that no matter what the allegation the real returns are even worse.

    I think that there's a third option: that he did indeed pay tax, abided by the law, but that his accounting team was so good at avoiding taxes that he'll be heavily damaged in the court of public opinion.

    That makes this ploy by Reid brilliant. It's tit-for-tat with the birthers. except that it looks far less crazy and damaging to the non-believers of this particular theory. It's unlikely to be *completely* false (ie: Romney paid more than his legal obligation in taxes), and any amount of truth is going to be damaging. The most likely situation is likely to be *quite* damaging when spun right.

    1. To be clear: I am not sure Harry actually said he thinks Romney didn't pay taxes and should have--I suspect if the issue really is "no taxes" then it is because in 2009, with the market tanking, Romney legally paid nothing (or very little). I pick 2009 because Romney was vetted by McCain in 2008 and said he "found nothing there." So if there's a bombshell it's either 2008 or 2009 taxes. But, really, yes: I think the issue--if there is one--is that Romney's taxes are an "impolitic" look at how the ultra-rich and the government interact and he doesn't want to play that game in an election year.

      And also, yes: the "Taxer" movement does look a lot less crazy than the "Birther" one because it is, currently, a record of accepted fact that Romney paid very little in 2011 and, hey, could've paid even less at some other time. Hardly a conspiracy. But a similar dynamic. I agree!

  2. The party that accused a decorated combat veteran of...something, and questioned the citizenship of a man whose mother was a citizen and whose birth announcement is found in old newspapers, FREAKS OUT when Mitt is asked why he does not follow a practice initiated BY HIS OWN FATHER.

    Remember the complaints that Mr. Obama wasn't properly "vetted?" What goes around comes around.

    I agree that Reid is lying, but no more than birther Donald Trump or the Swiftboaters did. Mr. Romney's distant relationship with truth gives him no moral high ground here.

    Well played, Mr. Reid! Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Romney. There are eight more innings.

    1. Yes, well--this is political hardball and it's a pretty fascinating to watch. By one measure Romney's unfavorables have spiked over 50% (!minpct=35&maxpct=55&mindate=2012-07-01&smoothing=less&showpoints=no) and, if that's accurate it's pretty dismal. Is it due to things like European gaffes, tax-return stuff, and negative ads? I don't know. But certainly some people think it is.