In a remarkable bit of political theater, Mitt Romney carefully divulged a bit more information about his tax returns, confirming for the first time that for the past 10 years, he has paid at least 13 percent in taxes.
Romney, asked some time ago by ABC News whether he had ever paid less than the 13.9 percent he paid in 2010, said he didn’t know, and promised to go back and check. After taking a pounding from Obama and Dems, Romney appeared to have decided not to make good on that vow.
But today Romney offered what was clearly a carefully scripted reply, claiming that “over the past 10 years, I never paid less than 13 percent.” But in the process, Romney denounced those who keep clamoring to see his returns, adding: “The fascination with the taxes I paid, I find to be very small minded compared to the broad issues we face.”
Buzzfeed has the video:
The problem with this response, of course, is that it only gives Dems another hook to call for the release of his returns, by challenging him to prove his claim.
What we’re looking at here is an extraordinary gamble by the Romney camp — call it the “just trust me” campaign. In essence, Romney is betting he can withhold huge amounts of detail about his finances and his major policy proposals without the public knowing or caring about it enough to matter.
On taxes, this lack of transparency goes beyond the amounts he paid; tax experts think the returns could shed light on Romney’s various offshore accounts and any techniques — fully legal, but perhaps difficult to explain politically — he used to keep his rates low. Romney has stuck to this stance even though multiple Republicans, including his longtime backer and fundraiser Jon Huntsman Sr., have called on him to come clean with the American people.
That’s only the begining. Romney won’t reveal the names of his major bundlers, even though he’s taken a drubbing from major editorial boards for failing to do so. Romney has claimed he wants to eliminate whole government programs and agencies, but has freely admitted he won’t specify which ones, because so doing could be political problematic. Romney did let a bit of detail slip about which programs and agencies he’d consolidate or eliminate, but only in a closed-door fundraiser that was overheard by reporters.
Romney has proposed a tax overhaul that he vows will be revenue neutral, but he won’t say which loopholes and deductions he’d close to ensure that his plan’s deep tax cuts on the rich will be paid for without hiking the middle class’s tax burden. And not only that, but Romney and his running mate have freely confirmed in interviews that they see no need to reveal these details until after the election — after which, they claim, it can all be worked out with Congress. And so on.
Dems are betting that all this lack of transparency will undermine the public’s willingness to trust him; today’s revelation will only give Dems another chance to pummel Romney to come clean. But Romney appears to be betting that he can muddle his way through to victory despite the merciless incoming he continues to take, because voters disillusioned by the bad economy will want an alternative so badly that they won’t be too picky about the details.
In one sense, Romney is throwing down the gauntlet before the news media. He is betting that the media will either fail to hold him accountable for his refusal to share basic info about his finances and policies with the American people before they choose their president — or that those efforts won’t matter, because the public simply won’t be informed enough either way to know the difference or just won’t care at all. In other words, Romney is betting on media incompetence — its inability to inform the public — or on voter apathy, or on a combination of both, to allow him to skate through.
Taken all together, it’s a remarkable display. Jay Rosen has dubbed the Romney effort the “post truth campaign.” It’s also the post transparency campaign. If it works — and it very well could work — think of the precedent it will set.