The focus this morning is on two stacks of paper: One is Mitt Romney’s 2010 and 2011 tax returns, released to The Washington Post last night, and the other is Newt Gingrich’s 15-page Freddie Mac contract. Which contains more damaging information?
He and his wife Ann donated a more-than-respectable $7 million over the past two years, but the leading beneficiary — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which the Romneys gave at least $4.1 million — highlights his Mormon faith, considered a question mark or even a negative by some voters.
The Romneys paid less than that in federal taxes over that period — $6.2 million for the two years, with an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent in 2010. That’s far lower than the rates paid by both Gingrich and President Obama.
But Gingrich said at last night’s debate that he doesn’t see Romney’s low effective tax rate as an issue; on the contrary, he thinks everyone should pay about 15 percent.
Which doesn’t mean Gingrich’s Super PAC won’t have a field day with the documents, examining every line to see what Romney was hiding in the Cayman Islands.
The bottom line, though? In Florida, there are a lot of wealthy Republicans whose tax returns could very well mirror Romney’s. So “rich” may not be a dirty word in a Florida Republican primary as it will be in the general election.
But what is? Freddie Mac. Welcome to Gingrich’s problem.
The Republican noise machine has spent years demonizing Freddie Mac as one of the most evil government-sponsored enterprises ever created. Conservatives have done an excellent job of connecting Freddie Mac to President Obama, too.
Even Gingrich did so, in 2008, saying that if Sen. John McCain wanted to win the White House, one of the things he had to do was highlight “the close ties Chris Dodd, Barack Obama and Barney Frank have to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”
That’s exactly what Romney did Monday night in Tampa, with Gingrich as the target.
One of the key rules in politics: Even if you can’t prove it, get your opponent to deny it. That’s what Romney forced Gingrich to do Monday night. For several minutes, Gingrich had to deny that he was a lobbyist for Freddie Mac.
Hard to do, considering that before the debate, Gingrich had released a contract from 2006 showing work he did for Freddie Mac. Some reports have placed Gingrich’s compensation from Freddie Mac as high as $1.6 million.
“At a prior debate, you said you were paid $300,000 by Freddie Mac as an historian. They don’t pay people $25,000 a month for six years as historians,” Romney said.
Gingrich fumbled a bit when Romney challenged him, saying that he was hired as a historian, specifically because of his knowledge of the “history of Washington.”
Twitter immediately exploded with history jokes. (That’s never a good thing.)
Gingrich must now walk a tightrope in Florida as he attempts to prolong his South Carolina high. He wants the support of the tea party voters who are not fans of Freddie Mac.
In 2010, Florida elected tea party favorite Marco Rubio to the Senate. Rubio has been touted as a possible vice presidential candidate. Gingrich has hired some of Rubio’s top campaign aides, including his campaign chief, to run his Florida operation. Before Rubio was a superstar, Gingrich wrote an introduction to his book and called it “genius.” Still, Rubio has said he won’t endorse in the race.
In that 15-page contract with the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac, Romney has received a gift that could alter the primary. Even if Gingrich runs ads showing the Swiss Alps and bank vaults engraved with Romney’s name, will his wealth cancel out Freddie Mac, an entity with major name recognition connected primarily to Democrats? No.