A number of people are pointing to this scorching quote from Joe McQuaid, the publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader, explaining the paper’s decision to endorse Newt Gingrich over Mitt Romney:
“I think — and this is crazy, but so are we — that Gingrich is going to have a better time in the general election than Mitt Romney,” publisher Joe McQuaid told FOX News. “I think it’s going to be Obama’s 99% versus the 1%, and Romney sort of represents the 1%.”
Aside from the obvious humor value here, this actually gets at something serious: The possibility that Mitt Romney’s tax rates, and not just his corporate past and support for cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations, amount to an unexplored vulnerability in a general election. Because he gets income from investments, Romney would have paid roughly 14 percent of his income in taxes in 2010, according to the Citizens for Tax Justice — lower than the rate paid by many middle class taxpayers.
Wait, there’s more. According to Bloomberg News, Romney is now benefitting from the fundraising of Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman of the world’s largest private equity firm, who is also soliciting help for Romney from colleagues. Bloomberg presents this as a sign that Romney is “closing the sale with Wall Street’s wealthiest donors.”
But there’s more to it than this. As Pat Garofalo notes, Schwarzman is also well known as a warrior against efforts to close loopholes that benefit private equity firms. Indeed, this new Romney supporter has even compared his battle against such efforts to World War Two:
“It’s a war,” Schwarzman said of the struggle with the administration over increasing taxes on private-equity firms. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”
Obviously, people like Schwarzman will back the GOP nominee, whoever he is, and Dems will likely highlight this kind of thing to paint the eventual GOP nominee, whoever he is, as in the pocket of Wall Street. But the fact that Romney himself personally benefits from aspects of the tax code that Obama wants to change makes him a less-than-ideal messenger to deliver criticism of Obama's push for tax fairness, and will likely make Dem attacks along these lines more potent. After all, Dems can argue that not only do the Schwarzmans of the world prefer Romney’s policies, but on top of that, Romney himself is actually one of them. You can’t say that about Newt.
This general election vulnerability is being obscured right now, because for obvious reasons, it isn’t an issue in the GOP primary. But the Obama team has taken note of this weakness — and Obama surrogates are likely going to work very hard to exploit it — even if it isn’t getting much attention right now. It seems like Republicans who are evaluating Romney’s strengths and weaknesses as a general election candidate might want to consider how this will play next year, particularly if resurgent populism continues to help shape the political environment, as many expect it to do.