* The case for Romney capitalism: Mitt Romney’s stumbling equivocations over whether he’ll release his tax returns were unquestionably one of the big stories of last night’s debate. But it’s also worth noting what Romney said next, because it previews one of the central arguments that will likely help decide the 2012:
I know the Democrats want to go after the fact that I’ve been successful. I’m not going to apologize for being successful....
I’m going to be able to talk to President Obama in a way no one else can that’s in this race right now, about how the free economy works, what it takes to put Americans back to work, and make sure he understands that this divisiveness and dividing Americans between 99 and one is dangerous. We are one nation under God.
Romney here is equating demands that he release his tax returns — standard practice for presidential candidates — with an attack on his success. This dovetails with his response to questions about his Bain years, which he has hinted are vaguely un-American, dismissing them as akin to putting “free enterprise on trial.”
In other words, Romney will present his wealth and his means of acquiring it as synonymous with capitalism and free enterprise itself — and even as an embodiment of the very foundations of American life and greatness. In this narrative, legitimate questions about Romney’s tax returns and his practice of capitalism — and what all that tells us about what kind of president he’d be — are converted into an attack on the essence of what made America great.
As I reported here yesterday, the Obama campaign is preparing for this to be a central element in Romney’s argument. As one Obama adviser put it: “We’re not putting free enterprise on trial. We’re putting Mitt Romney on trial.” This is going to be a grueling argument. But seems likely that the public mood makes this favorable terrain for Dems — which is why the events of the last week have led to rising doubts and even panic among conservatives about Romney’s caliber as a general election candidate.
* Conservatives nervous about Romney’s wealth : Along these lines, Charles Krauthammer is absolutely right to observe that by criticizing Romney’s brand of capitalism, Republicans have given bipartisan legitimacy to the core Democratic case against the likely GOP nominee:
If leading Republicans are denouncing rapacious capitalism that enriches the 1 percent while impoverishing everyone else, should this not be the paramount issue in a campaign occurring at a time of economic distress? ... This is the GOP maneuvering itself right onto Obama terrain.
There you have it: That’s why the GOP candidates were met with such fury from the right for allowing that some practices of capitalism are not above reproach.
* Why do the rich pay such low tax rates, anyway? Paul Krugman on the larger and salutary debate over wealth, taxation and economic growth that’s been forced into the open by Romney’s tax equivocations:
The economic record certainly doesn’t support the notion that superlow taxes on the superrich are the key to prosperity. During that first Clinton term, when the very rich paid much higher taxes than they do now, the economy added 11.5 million jobs, dwarfing anything achieved even during the good years of the Bush administration.
So Mr. Romney’s tax dance is doing us all a service by highlighting the unwise, unjust and expensive favors being showered on the upper-upper class. At a time when all the self-proclaimed serious people are telling us that the poor and the middle class must suffer in the name of fiscal probity, such low taxes on the very rich are indefensible.
The same can be said about inequality and the good, bad and ugly of capitalism itself: These subjects are more central to this presidential race — even in the GOP primary! — than to any campaign in memory.
* Gingrich attacks the media, delighting Republicans: Gingrich’s big breakout moment last night was his fist-shaking, trembling-with-anger tirade at the media over Marianne Gingrich’s allegations. This reveals a potentially serious problem for Romney going forward: He’s simply no match for Newt when it comes to exciting the conservative id with perfectly timed assaults on Obama and his liberal-media gatekeepers and worshippers.
* Newt-mentum in South Carolina!!! Nate Silver comes away from last night’s debate predicting that he’s now the slight favorite to win the South Carolina primary, and the continuing volatility of GOP primary opinion continues to be the big story here, with unpredictable consequences for the nomination battle.
* Is Romney’s “inevitability” melting away? Great read from Walter Shapiro on how predictions of Romney’s certain nomination have run smack into Gingrich’s surprise resurrection, his bizarre staying power, and the willingness of GOP primary voters to cut him slack despite his many past failings.
My take: Gingrich comes across as someone who has already done public pennance for his many sins, and many conservatives are able to look past them because they sense that he’s one of them in a way that Romney just isn’t.
* Gingrich’s redemption: Also, as E.J. Dionne notes, you can’t underestimate the power of the redemption narrative. That, I think, is the real secret to the force and appeal of Gingrich’s attack on the Godless media.
* Romney’s tax problems just won’t go away: The DNC is out with a new Web video recapping Romney’s various equivocations when pressed last night on whether he’ll release his returns, with Newt Gingrich getting in the last word in a big way. Pressed on whether he’ll release the last 12 years, Romney says with a laugh: “Maybe.” (He went on to say he’d release multiple years, though not how many.)
“Romney thinks he can play by another set of rules,” says the DNC’s release, summing up what will surely be the Dem argument for months.
* Could third party challenger emerge from the right? Harold Meyerson on why it might be particularly tempting this year: Culturally conservative blue collar whites may prefer that option to choosing between the two hated elites Romney and Obama each represent.
* Dems continue supporting SOPA: A good, quick Wall Street Journal piece points out that Dems, not Republicans, are the ones who have proven deaf to the protests about SOPA, because of “the bill’s strong union backing and the fact that Hollywood has opened its collective wallet wider for Democrats historically.” More on this later, hopefully.
* But SOPA may be dead: Dem Senate leaders reportedly have told rank and file Senators they aren’t required to vote for the legislation, which means it may go down — potentially a major victory for online organizing.
* Warren-mentum!!! Elizabeth Warren pulls in $1 million in a 24-hour moneybomb, another reminder that national grassroots support may enable her to remain competitive with the Scott Brown fundraising juggernaut.
Key footnote: Her grassroots fundraising prowess is a leading reason national Dems wanted her to run so badly.
* And the rant of the day: A spectacular one from John Cole about Romney’s go-back-to-Russia confrontation with the Occupy protester. Sample: “there is no reason for the bottom 99% to go to Russia, because as far as income disparity goes, they’re already there.”
Digby’s translation: “love it or leave it commie. And that includes the Kenyan president.”