April 15th Is Coming Early This Year
Wishing that I had the number for Mitt Romney’s accountant …
So, Mitt Romney has a problem. He has shown little or no ability to relate to regular people. (And now that everyone knows he pays taxes at a lower rate than they do, he’s in worse shape.) In the most recent ABC/Washington Post Poll, Romney is struggling to break out on most of the basic leadership questions – reflects core GOP values (26%), honest and trustworthy (23%), stands up for what he believes in (24%), best experience (30%). He is strongest on personality and temperament (40%) and best chance to beat Obama (57%). But his weakest showing comes when respondents are asked whether he “best understands the problems of people like you” (21%). And these respondents were self-described as Republican-leaning. That number has to be lower among a general election sample that includes Dems and Indies.
Meet Mitt Six-Pack: It isn’t a new problem for Romney. When he ran for Governor in 2002, his campaign had him out on media “work days” – sorting lobsters, hanging off a garbage truck, etc. The goal was to show him as a “regular guy.” It actually showed him as a guy who was probably glad he never had – or would ever have to do – any of these jobs. Let’s face it – this is a problem for most people in power. National politics is a business for the wealthy. Not many voters believe that anyone who rises to the level of presidential contender is in any way “just like us.” But the candidates still have to be able to show they understand the lives of so-called ordinary Americans – either through their own life experiences, their work experience (policies, actions, decisions), or simply through how they interact with other people. Romney has issues on all three fronts.
The Man, The Myth, The CEO: We don’t want to go overboard with the Maureen Dowd-style psycho-babble, but it makes sense to try to get at the essence of a person to best understand the how and why they do what they do. Romney’s background is that of a privileged upbringing with his socialization coming via communities (Mormon, Harvard Business/Law, consulting, private equity) that are not terribly reflective of the typical American life. Romney was bred for leadership, and at times it seems as though he has always been in charge. But what kind of leader has he been? It’s one thing to foster loyalty among employees at a place like Bain, where Ivy League pedigrees and MBAs abound. But how does leading Bain translate outside the private equity world? Romney does not seem to be the type of CEO who could walk a shop floor and talk naturally to the workers about their day, their families, their lives outside of work. Did he ever feel the responsibility to go to a branch being closed and personally explain the reasons behind that decision and take all the tough questions? (If so, now would be a good time to get that out.) Bain/Romney’s expertise is to come in from the outside, analyze a business from top to bottom, improve management and better exploit opportunities. If it doesn’t work, you sell or shut it down and move on. He dealt mostly, if not exclusively, with upper management, likely insulated from the messiness of employee or community relations. His obvious lack of familiarity with working-class people – how they will react to what he says or how he says it – contributes greatly to his general unease on the stump. What may sound normal to him sometimes comes across completely differently to the average listener. Hence, yesterday’s 15% tax rate blowup.
Time To Dump The Trash: Here are the questions being asked at Romney HQs today: How far do we want to go back and how fast can we dump these tax returns to start to get this behind us? Is there any way to pivot off this tax talk to get to tax reform? How do we impress upon our candidate that $300,000+ is an awful lot of money? The first question sounds the easiest – but it’s not as simple as it sounds. It is unbelievable to think that Team Romney didn’t anticipate that they would have to release tax returns at some point, with all vetting and prep work in the can. How much did candidate or spouse reticence play a part in holding back? (Don’t discount this. Think of what it would be like to have the whole world tearing through your personal tax returns. Just because running for president means abandoning most privacy rights, that doesn’t mean candidates or their families like it.) The Romney campaign needs to make sure they fully understand the returns before they are released. That means they need to be vetted on an accounting, legal and political basis. Every possible question needs to be anticipated and answered. Bottom line: Those returns are coming out sooner than April, but I’d be surprised to see them this week before SC.
Brave Newt World: Newt Gingrich’s word-of-the-day is “chutzpah,” or as they pronounce it down in SC – “that boy’s got himself a pair.” Gingrich has put forward a strategy for dealing with Romney. It involves the Ricks – Santorum and Perry – getting out of the race and backing Gingrich to form a united conservative front against Romney. Newt was 4th in Iowa with 13% and 5th in NH with 9%, so of course he’s the guy to be calling the shots. But this GOP season has been a game of rotating No. 2’s to Mitt’s Dr. Evil. And Newt seems poised for his second run at Nominee-in-Waiting. With Romney’s tax trouble, he may even be in a position to pass Romney in SC and put up a win. Fox News reported this morning that Rasmussen has him trailing Romney nationally now by only 3-points, 30-27%. The Real Clear Politics average of SC polls has Romney holding a 10-point lead for now. So what of the Ricks? Perry has spent the past few days playing to SC evangelicals, adding the word “catholic” to his talking points when referring to Santorum (as noted by Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown”). (Aside: Does this stuff still work?) Santorum has shown an amazing inability to leverage his own evangelical support into any SC momentum. As brazen as Newt’s power play is, it’s now on Perry and Santorum to show why he’s wrong.
Sarah from Alaska, Hello: Sarah Palin surfaced last night on “Hannity” and weighed in on the state of the GOP race. She is obviously not a Romney fan, but did finally concede – without mentioning Romney’s name – that she favors “anybody but Obama.” She did say if she had a vote in SC, “in order to keep this thing going, I’d vote for Newt. And I would want this to continue – more debates, more vetting of candidates. Because we know the mistake made in our country four years ago was having a candidate that was not vetted (Ed. Note: slight pause here embellished for dramatic effect) to the degree that he should have been so that we knew what his associations and his pals represented and what went into his thinking, the shaping of who our president today is.” Mark it down. Sarah Palin is in favor of more intensive vetting of candidates for national office. Gotcha.
Move Along, Media. Nothing to See Here: A group possibly even more unhappy with Romney than his campaign staff and supporters is the VC, private equity and hedge fund community that benefit from the “carried interest tax break” and its lower 15% rate. Romney’s bungle will surely lead to media examination of the who, what, how and why of this special 15% rate – with expected calls for its repeal. Internet entrepreneur and investor Chris Dixon breaks it down here in a blog post titled, “Money managers should pay the same tax rates as everybody else.” He argues, “A fireman who runs into burning buildings shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than a financier sunbathing on a yacht eating $400 crabs.” Ok, then. A well-heeled pillow fight ensues in the comments below. Enjoy.
The Books of Mitt: The Boston Globe’s Michael Kranish and Scott Helman have released their new book, “The Real Romney.” But there’s another book out on Romney, a document that appears to be the McCain campaign’s opposition research “book” on Romney from ’08, now up on Buzzfeed. If you’ve ever wanted to see what opposition research looks like, this is it.