Mitt Romney’s problem is not simply that the Obama campaign has succeeded in persuading voters that his policies would benefit the rich at the expense of the middle class. It’s that his policies really would benefit the rich at the expense of the middle class, and he doesn’t have any reality-based way of persuading voters otherwise.
Case in point: The new ad that the Romney campaign rolled out this morning, which is a very good preview of what to expect at the debates:
The ad claims Obama and the “liberals” would raise middle class taxes, and says: “Mitt Romney and common sense conservatives would cut taxes on the middle class, and they’ll close loopholes for millionaires.”
The ad shows that the Romney camp recognizes the urgent needs to change perceptions that his policies are skewed towards the wealthy. The problem is that the ad is an almost comically misleading presentation of his own actual proposals, and it is unlikely voters will believe it in the numbers Romney needs.
The ad’s claim that he’d cut taxes on the middle class while closing loopholes for millionaires glosses over some inconvenient realities. Romney’s proposed across the board tax cuts would disproportionately benefit the rich. As for closing loopholes for millionaires, the Tax Policy Center found that the plan cannot be paid for in that fashion; if you are going to keep it revenue neutral, as Romney has claimed, you’d need to target loopholes enjoyed by middle class Americans, ultimately hiking their tax burden. (Paul Ryan has explicitly acknowledged that Romney would proceed with tax cuts even if the math can’t be made to work.)
The larger point here, though, is that Romney’s broader agenda really would benefit the rich at the expense of everyone else. He has embraced the Ryan agenda, which “would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history,” as Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently put it. Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare would do away with its core mission over time, ultimately translating into higher medical costs for seniors — even as Romney would dramatically reduce the amount the rich contribute towards deficit reduction. Repealing Obamacare would take away health insurance from millions.
Romney’s answer to all this is that cutting taxes and deregulation — getting government out of the way — will ultimately benefit everybody. Indeed, today’s Post reports that the Romney camp is hard at work on an explanation for his lethal remarks about the freeloading 47 percent. He will say that he’s “for the 100 percent,” and that his policies will benefit the millions of struggling Americans failed by Obama’s policies.
The problem for Romney is that this claim — that his policies will help everybody — simply isn’t credible. Camp Romney continues to treat his 47 percent remarks, and his plutocratic aura, as something that can be corrected with a few well-placed lines and a softening of his image. But what Romney really needs to explain is how his policies would benefit everybody. This is tough to do, since any substantive discussion of them risks reminding voters that they represent a return to Bush economics. So Romney is forced to resort to evasions like the ones in the new ad. This has at least a chance of working in a controlled setting like a TV spot. But at the debates, Romney won’t be the only one on the stage.
* Obama leads in another national poll: Quinnipiac finds Obama leading Romney nationally among likely voters by 49-45. Crucially, Romney leads Obama by only 53-42 percent among whites — far short of the 60 or 61 percent he’d probably need to win. The two are tied on the economy, suggesting again that Romney’s advantage on it is gone.
Obama holds a large edge among women, 56-38. He may be holding down Romney’s margin among whites by appealing to college educated women (who are part of Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant”) and, more interestingly, to non-college females. As Ron Brownstein notes, Obama’s unusually high support among that latter group — “waitress moms” — is driving his leads in battleground states.
* Americans now want one-party rule: Another fascinating finding from Quinnipiac: Americans say 60-25 that the government would make progress addressing the nation’s problems if one party ran the White House and Congress. McConnell’s chickens coming home to roost?
* Polls settling into a pattern: Steven Shepard notes that the new Q-poll is only the latest to align with a broader pattern, in which Obama gets 49 to 50 percent, and Romney gets 45 to 47 percent.
Also: “Romney has lost his advantage on the economy.” Yes, he has, in many other polls, too.
* Scott Brown lauds Antonin Scalia: Steve Benen has video and good commentary on a key moment at last night’s Massachusetts Senate debate. As Benen rightly notes, the media is getting it wrong in calling Brown’s barb about not being a student of Warren’s the main event; in this case voters actually learned something about Brown’s moderate posture.
* Romney softens on immigration: This is suggestive: The GOP candidate has now told the Denver Post that he would not deport young illegal immigrants who receive temporary permits under Obama’s new policy. After Obama made the announcement, Romney refused to say whether he would repeal the policy. Now, at a time when the GOP nominee is winning historically low Latino support, he has confirmed he would leave it in place until he supplants it with his own policy.
* Here comes the flood of outside money: The Rove-founded Crossroads GPS is sinking $11 million into a new ad in multiple states hammering Obama’s stimulus for failing to bring down the unemployment rate. The problem for Republicans is that voters already know the economy sucks, but are concluding in higher numbers that it will improve in an Obama second term. The ad’s closing claim — “we can’t afford another four years” — implicitly acknowledges this reality.
* Yet another misleading Romney ad: Josh Hicks takes apart the Romney camp’s latest ad accusing Obama of being soft on China. The soft-on-China message is central to Romney’s efforts to gain more traction in Ohio, where Obama leads in the Real Clear Politics average by 5.5 points.
* Offshore tactics increased Romney’s wealth: The New York Times does a deep dive into Romney’s finances and details that offshore arrangements and Bain tax avoidance strategies may have reduced Romney’s tax bills and “enhanced his income.”
Key point: “While hardly a novel concept and not unique to Bain, the inevitable result is that elite investors like Mr. Romney are able to increase their fortunes in ways unavailable to most taxpayers.” Dems will likely seize on this today to continue painting Romney as the walking embodiment of everything about our economy and tax system that’s rigged in favor of the rich.
* And Obama is only winning because he’s black: This George Will column perfectly captures the inability of many conservatives to understand how many swing voters view Obama:
the nation, which is generally reluctant to declare a president a failure — thereby admitting that it made a mistake in choosing him — seems especially reluctant not to give up on the first African American president. If so, the 2012 election speaks well of the nation’s heart, if not its head.
As I’ve been saying here, some on the right are incapable of fathoming the idea that many voters simply don’t see Obama as a resounding failure. There cannot be substantive reasons why swing voters would still be supportive of Obama; there can only be symbolic or emotional ones. So Romney just has persuade them to “break up” with Obama. If Romney loses, this theory of the race will explain a lot.