At a press availability this morning, Mitt Romney confirmed what we’ve all suspected for some time: Because he gets much of his income from investments, he pays a lower tax rate than many middle class taxpayers.
“It’s probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything,” Romney said, adding: “My income comes overwhelmingly from some investments made in the past, rather than ordinary income or earned annual income.” Watch:
So let’s tally up some of the major things we know about Romney in the context of this cultural, political and economic moment.
1) At a time when the 2012 presidential election is expected to focus heavily on tax fairness, the GOP is set to nominate someone who is worth as much as $250 million, but pays a lower tax rate than many middle class taxpayers.
2) At a time when polls suggest public anger at Wall Street conduct is running high, the GOP is set to nominate someone who presided over corporate restructuring deals that resulted in mass layoffs and economic suffering — even as he raked in an enormous fortune in the process.
3) At a time when majorities support higher taxes on the wealthy and are increasingly preoccupied with inequality and the shrinking middle class, the GOP is set to nominate a candidate whose tax plan, by one analysis, would cut taxes on the top 0.1 percent by nearly half a million dollars, while marginally raising them on many lower end taxpayers.
4) At a time when Democrats are salivating to paint their opponent as the candidate of the one percent, the GOP is set to nominate a candidate who regularly says things that (fairly or not) can be used to feed this narrative. To name just a few, Romney has said that “corporations are people”; confided that he likes to “be able to fire people” who provide him services; and has refused to say whether any and all questions about inequality and Wall Street excess are rooted in anything other than “envy.”
Now, none of this means that Romney isn’t the strongest general election candidate, and indeed, polls show he’s locked in a dead heat with Obama nationally and in key swing states. The question, though, is whether Romney’s strength as a general election candidate is real, or whether it’s a matter of perception.
The bad economy is obviously a huge liability for Obama. But it remains possible that it is inflating the poll strength of opponents like Romney, because respondents are picking the alternative to Obama before getting to know him better, a state of affairs that could change once Romney’s record and biography are better understood by voters. It’s also possible that Romney’s potential weaknesses as a general election candidate are getting papered over by the far worse weaknesses of his GOP rivals. This is why conservatives like Erick Erickson predict that despite current perceptions, Romney will ultimately prove a “disastrous general election candidate.”
We won’t know the truth for some time, and it’s very possible that Romney could prove formidable in a general election. But given what we now know, it does seem as if the GOP is about to take a very big gamble here.