Mitt Romney has had a tough time on the campaign trail in recent weeks. He’s had to insist over and over again that he left Bain Capital in 1999, despite Securities and Exchange Commission documents which imply that he didn’t. He’s been forced to defend himself against charges that he was involved in Bain investments in outsourcing firms from that post-1999 period. Plus, lots of folks on cable news – some of them Republicans – keep shouting at him to release more years of personal tax returns.
You’d think that all this controversy might cause him to slip in the polls. But that doesn’t appear to be happening. In fact, according to the Romney campaign, the presumptive GOP nominee is actually catching up.
A new memo out today from Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse notes that in April the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls put President Obama ahead by 5.3 percentage points. As of July 15, the same RCP measurement had Mr. Obama ahead by only 2.4 percentage points.
Three national polls released since Friday – Rasmussen, Gallup daily tracking, and McClatchy/Marist – show the race to be a dead heat, writes Mr. Newhouse. And this is so, says the Romney official, despite the fact that the Obama campaign has outspent its counterpart two to one on national advertising during the period.
“What has that bought the Democrats? A closer race – Obama has slipped and support for Gov. Romney has increased,” writes Newhouse.
Well, we have a couple of things to say about this assertion. The first is that it’s true that the presidential horse race so far has been remarkably stable. As we’ve written before, there is little evidence that the daily stuff seems to matter. The Supreme Court decision upholding Obama’s health-care reforms, bad jobs reports, Bain attacks, tax return controversies – at this point none of that seems to be seeping through to large numbers of voters.
The second is that you have to cherry-pick polls a little bit to say that Romney is actually catching up and we’re seeing a “closer race.”
At least one of the recent polls the Romney camp points to – the Gallup daily tracking numbers – has consistently shown the Republican doing a bit better than its counterparts. And the Romney memo leaves off a Pew Research poll released last Thursday that gave Obama a seven-point advantage.
Look at the RealClearPolitics line graph of its rolling average and you’ll see that there is a good deal of noise inherent in the measurement – daily numbers moving up and down around a fairly steady overall trend line. That’s what pollsters mean when they talk about margin of error. You expect day-to-day, and poll-to-poll, variations.
“The narrow Obama advantage in the national polls translates, as expected, into a modest Electoral College advantage for the president in the individual state polls,” writes Mr. Blumenthal.
Blumenthal adds that as the election nears and more pollsters began screening their results to reflect the preferences of likely voters (as opposed to all registered voters) Romney might catch up. That’s because historically a higher percentage of Republicans actually vote.
“Buckle up, polling junkies, it’s going to be a bumpy ride,” he writes.
Could it be Condi? Don’t hold your breath.
We’re referring to the vice-presidential speculation that exploded Thursday, with a story on the Drudge Report saying that the former secretary of State had emerged as a “front-runner” to become Mitt Romney’s running mate.
It all strikes us, however, as a red herring.
True, Mr. Romney is probably getting close to making a decision on his No. 2 (if he hasn’t already). But if the campaign is hoping to get a significant bump in the polls after announcing the pick, a crucial component will be the element of surprise. Floating a trial balloon by leaking Condoleezza Rice’s name to Drudge would undermine that.
Then there are all the strikes against her:
1. She’s in favor of abortion rights. Given the lack of trust that many social conservatives have for Romney – whose position on abortion has, as he puts it, “evolved” over the years – it’s been widely assumed that he will choose a running mate with a strong antiabortion record, to reassure the base. (Interestingly, though, Ms. Palin seemed to indicate some flexibility on that point Thursday night, noting that while she’d prefer candidates be antiabortion, “it’s not the vice president that would legislate abortion ... that would be Congress’s role.”)
2. She’s too closely associated with the Bush years. George W. Bush left office with a 34 percent approval rating and a 61 percent disapproval rating – and Ms. Rice’s role in many of the most controversial elements of his presidency, like the Iraq war, would be revived and probed all over again.
3. She’s not a politician. We know, Rice gave an electrifying speech at Romney’s donor retreat in Utah last month, firing up the crowd and giving rise to all the vice-presidential rumors that are now in overdrive. But she has never run for elective office, and she still strikes us as extremely private and even somewhat shy. It’s hard to picture her out on the campaign trail, giving stump speeches and working the rope line, or being willing to endure the kind of intense media scrutiny that goes with the territory. And of course, she has said repeatedly that she’s not interested (and yes, everyone says that – but in this case, we believe her).
Given all that, it seems to us that the Romney folks were really just looking for a splashy way to change the subject Thursday, away from the downward-sucking spiral that has become Romney’s record at Bain, what year he actually “retired,” what’s in his tax returns, offshore bank accounts, etc., etc.
But if leaking Rice’s name to Drudge was mostly an effort to turn the page, it could have unintended consequences. Specifically, we’re now wondering if the chatter – and evident enthusiasm – about Rice has gone beyond what the Romney campaign anticipated, to the point where it could make his eventual choice seem less exciting by comparison.
Of all the vice-presidential contenders being discussed, Rice clearly leads the pack in both star power and intellectual heft. And it’s awfully intriguing to imagine the impact of putting a black woman on the GOP ticket. At the moment, the electorate seems even more divided by race than in 2008: President Obama is polling at new lows among white men, while retaining or even increasing his support among minorities. If Romney could steal even a small percentage of minority votes away from the president, it could change the whole electoral map.
In a way, the jolt created by the Rice speculation has underscored one of the biggest problems for Romney. He is widely perceived as uninspiring and, well, dull – even by Republicans. Qualified, efficient, pragmatic, sure. But dull.
Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan recounted in her Wall Street Journal column Thursday that when she mentioned Rice as a possibly “brilliant choice” for VP to a crowd of business people recently, “spontaneous applause” erupted. As Ms. Noonan put it, the crowd seemed suddenly energized by the notion that this campaign could get exciting, after all.
That doesn’t mean picking Rice is the answer for Romney. But it raises new questions about the wisdom of putting a proverbial "boring white guy" on the ticket. Romney doesn't have many options left for injecting genuine excitement into his campaign. And he could use some.
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These questions arise due to recent news reports on Bain Capital SEC filings indicating that Mr. Romney retained control over the firm for years after his announced 1999 departure to run the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. The Boston Globe reported on these documents this week, following stories by David Corn of Mother Jones and other journalists earlier in the month.
This might seem like political hair-splitting – what’s three years, after all? But Bain Capital, during those years, was involved in investments in outsourcing firms and several job-killing bankruptcies. Romney doesn’t want to be tied to those events – something the Obama campaign is trying to do.
“Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission], which is a felony, or he is misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments,” said Stephanie Cutter, President Obama's deputy campaign manager, on Thursday in a conference call with reporters.
In the past, independent journalistic fact-finding organizations have found that the Obama team’s attempts to link Romney to Bain’s outsourcing investments are a stretch at best and deceptive at worst. They say nothing in the new revelations changes that judgment.
Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler called the SEC documents “relatively unimportant,” and noted that Romney filed a federal financial disclosure form that states he had no active role in Bain during the years in question. A misstatement on the disclosure form would indeed be a felony, wrote Mr. Kessler.
“That filing would seem to trump these SEC documents,” he concluded.
“None of the SEC filings show that Romney was anything but a passive, absentee owner during that time, as both Romney and Bain have long said,” writes Jackson. “It should not surprise anyone that Romney retained certain titles while he was working out the final disposition of his ownership.”
Does this mean the White House will have to abandon this line of attack? Ha! Haven’t paid much attention to this election cycle, have you?
The Obama team may believe that forcing Romney to explain why he wasn’t running Bain after 1999 is almost as good as actually proving that he was running Bain after 1999. That’s because every day the word “Bain” shows up in headlines, it reminds voters of Romney’s venture capital past – and it’s a day when job loss numbers didn’t dominate the national political conversation.
“Sure, Romney’s name appeared on Bain’s SEC filings. But he didn’t make Bain’s decisions. He only benefited financially from them,” writes Slate political blogger David Weigel. “Now you see why the Obama campaign thinks it can drag this out over weeks and months.”
But here’s the not-little-secret about the 2012 campaign: So far, the daily stuff doesn’t seem to matter. Bain, bad job reports, the US Supreme Court decision on health care, Mr. Obama’s comment that the private-sector economy is “doing fine” – there’s little evidence any of that has moved the polls one iota, according to Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics senior election analyst.
Since the end of the Republican primary season, virtually all major polls of registered voters have shown Obama slightly ahead of the presumptive GOP nominee. Virtually all surveys of likely voters have the candidates in a dead heat.
“This is a long way of pointing out that the various events in the campaign that journalists have focused on ... have done almost nothing to move this race,” writes Mr. Trende.
Obama’s attacks on Romney haven’t been able disqualify the former Massachusetts governor for the presidency in the minds of voters – particularly white working-class voters, a group for whom Obama holds little appeal. Meanwhile, Romney’s focus on job losses has ignored the fact that the economy isn’t terrible. It isn’t good, but it isn’t horrendous at this point, either.
“Overall, we just haven’t seen the type of event that would cause this campaign to break open one way or the other. If I had to bet, given the overall dynamics of the campaigns, I’d say we won’t see much net movement until the end,” writes Trende.
Lots of weird things happen in Congress in an election season. Case in point: For the next few weeks, Democrats swear they’re going to relish a fight on taxes.
Taxes, of course, are typically GOP-controlled terrain, and that conversation typically goes something like this: We don't want any. But this year, Democrats think they have the winning hand, and so Senate Democratic leaders are twisting themselves into procedural pretzels to make sure the issue doesn't leave the public eye anytime soon.
Never mind that President Obama asked Congress last week immediately to pass a one-year extension of the Bush tax cuts up to $250,000 in household income. There's two weeks to go until Congress's summer break, and delaying a vote on the president's plan gives Democrats two weeks to pummel Republicans as middle-class-hating protectors of the fabulously wealthy and undertaxed.
“We’re delighted to wait a few weeks and have the president go around the country and explain his tax proposal, our tax proposal, versus theirs,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York. “Every day, the more people hear about the difference between the two, the more they side with ours.”
This, however, has required some small amount of legislative gymnastics.
The Republicans, of course, knew exactly what the Democrats were up to and tried to trump them. They wanted to attach their Bush tax cut proposal – preserving the cuts for all income levels – and the president's to a bill aimed at cutting taxes for small businesses who hire new employees.
This is a bread-and-butter maneuver for the Senate minority – amending a bill that many people like in such a way as to make it poisonous to the opposing party. In this case, the amendments would have allowed Republicans to get the Bush tax cut vote out of the way quickly and move on to other issues.
But Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada was having none of it. On Wednesday morning, he disallowed the amendments and later, for good measure, closed down all further amendments on the small businesses bill.
In the procedure-obsessed Senate, closing off amendments is like taking doughnuts from Homer Simpson. Expect things to get ugly.
Republicans expressed their shock that the Senate majority leader would block a vote on a plan that the president himself wanted passed as soon as possible (because they, after all, are always so eager to please the president). They also savaged Senator Reid's solution: The two tax plans would come up for a vote as bills of their own – at some point before the summer recess.
Republicans already had their bill written, by Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Orrin Hatch of Utah. But who knows what the Democrats would put into their proposal, suggested Senate minority leader McConnell.
“If the president has a proposal, we’ll be happy to send an intern down to the White House to pick it up. But we can’t vote on a speech,” McConnell said Thursday. “And, frankly, we can’t continue like this. It’s long past time Democrats at the White House and in the Senate took the lives and challenges of working Americans as seriously as they take politics.”
The politics of the bill are quite clear. It's not about passing the bill, it's about scoring political points.
It won't have the 60 votes needed to overcome a Senate filibuster. Several vulnerable Democratic senators – Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Jon Tester of Montana – all gave lukewarm reactions to the president’s plan, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, who caucuses with Democrats, said he would vote against it.
But Democratic leaders appeared confident at a press conference Thursday that they would have at least 51 votes for the president’s measure – a symbolic statement that would show Democrats in general are on board. Trying to add to this impression, Senate Finance Chairman Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota said Tuesday that the “vast majority” of the caucus is “comfortable” with the president’s plan.
And, it goes without saying, many will be comfortable talking about it – a lot – during the next two weeks.
Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday delivered a fiery speech defending Obama administration priorities to the NAACP annual meeting in Houston. His basic theme: For working-class black families, President Obama’s agenda is better than challenger Mitt Romney’s.
“I think Mitt Romney is a fine family man. I believe he’s driven by what he believes. But the differences are so basic about how we view the future of America,” said Mr. Biden.
For instance, education does not play a central role in Mr. Romney’s vision of the US, while it does for Mr. Obama, charged Biden. Romney opposes government support for the development of renewable-energy sources and efforts to equalize pay between men and women.
Biden drew perhaps his most enthusiastic crowd response when he said that the incumbent administration wants to expand voting rights, not diminish them. In a number of states, Republicans have led efforts to require that voters produce identification – a requirement that Attorney General Eric Holder has derided as a “poll tax” designed to suppress minority votes.
“Folks, there is a lot more to say, but this is preaching to the choir,” said Biden, stating the obvious as the audience applauded.
Polls show that Obama should win upwards of 95 percent of the African American vote, so in many ways Biden’s reception was foreordained. The pastor who led the invocation to open the day’s proceedings listed how the NAACP had been “blessed” to hear from a number of prominent individuals, but left that word out when referring to the presumptive GOP nominee, saying only that “we’ve heard also from Mitt Romney."
The NAACP crowed booed Romney on Wednesday when he vowed that if elected he’d repeal Obama's health care law. The audience did applaud some Romney pronouncements, such as his statement of opposition to gay marriage, and gave him a polite standing ovation at his end.
Given this context, one question stands out: Where was the president himself? If his challenger was willing to appear before the NAACP and be booed, why couldn’t Obama bestir himself to meet live with his most committed supporters?
Conservative commentators defending Romney were quick to make this comparison.
“Hey, one Presidential candidate cared enough about the African-American vote to show up to the NAACP’s annual convention in this election year. Too bad it wasn’t the Democrat,” wrote conservative talk show host Ed Morrissey on the website Hot Air.
Republicans noted that CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer agreed with them. On his Situation Room show on Wednesday, Mr. Blitzer said that Romney did the “right thing” by appearing and that Obama, who was in Washington with no public meetings on his schedule, should have appeared as well.
“He’s got meetings. I assume those meetings are very important, but he could have found the time to pay his respects to the NAACP,” said Blitzer.
It’s true that most blacks will vote Democratic. But in swing states such as Virginia, Obama needs every single vote – and an energized African-American electorate could help him, said Blitzer.
Obama did appear at the NAACP via video just prior to Biden’s speech. “I stand on your shoulders,” he said, to polite but not overwhelming applause.
That’s what some liberals are charging. They say that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee agreed to appear before an African-American audience precisely because he knew he’d get a negative reaction.
He’s not likely to receive many black votes in any case, and boos would allow him to look principled in the face of opposition and bolster his image with independents and conservatives. Or so the theory goes.
Mr. Romney’s often been accused of flip-flopping on issues according to the political demands of the moment. By standing up to the NAACP, he might be able to soften this image and perhaps round out his character a bit, according to some Democrats.
“It seemed like Mitt Romney wanted to get booed at the NAACP this morning,” said MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow on Wednesday. “He wanted to wear that around his neck like a badge of courage.”
Romney himself has added some fuel to this fire by saying he “expected” the jeers, which occurred at a point in his speech when he promised to repeal Obamacare. At a fundraiser in Montana on Wednesday night, the former Massachusetts governor referred to the speech as evidence of his political consistency.
“I don’t give different speeches to difference audiences ... I want people to know what I stand for, and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine,” said Romney, according to an account of the evening in Politico.
They lauded Romney for the very things which liberals derided: He didn’t tailor his words to the audience.
“There’s no question Mitt Romney is a brave guy for going to the NAACP convention,” said Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly. “He knew he would not be received well there. But he also knows that if he wins the election he will be president to all Americans so his appearance is a positive in that regard.”
Mr. O’Reilly and others said that the appearance underscored Romney’s willingness to reach across the aisle – a nod to inclusiveness that could appeal to white independent voters, particularly women.
They noted that Romney also got some positive reaction from the crowd, particularly when he talked about his support for school choice initiatives and his opposition to gay marriage.
Mitt Romney was booed on Wednesday while speaking at the NAACP annual meeting in Houston. The moment occurred a little past the halfway mark of the presumptive GOP nominee’s address, when he talked about what he’d do to curb government spending.
“I’m going to eliminate every nonessential expensive program I can find. That includes ‘Obamacare,’ ” said Romney.
The jeers started then, and Romney stopped speaking and let them roll on, standing with a fixed smile on his face for about 15 seconds. It’s not clear if the audience was defending the president’s health-care reforms, or just didn’t like derogatory use of the Obama name. There were more scattered boos a bit later in the speech when Romney said President Obama “cannot” do all the things he’s promised, but there was applause as well, particularly when Romney talked about GOP school choice initiatives.
Here’s our question: Is it possible that the booing incident will actually be good for the Romney campaign?
Some conservative analysts think it will. Their argument is that Romney will win few African American votes anyway, and that his willingness to say things he knew would be unpopular to the NAACP audience will win him support from other demographic groups.
“This gives him all sorts of instant credibility on the Right and in the middle,” writes conservative talk show host/blogger Ed Morrissey on the Hot Air website. “The middle will be pleased to see that Romney went to the convention at all, in the face of overt hostility, plus the NAACP audience comes across as a bit immature. The Right has doubted Romney’s commitment to repealing ObamaCare at times, but this shows that Romney is willing to repeat that pledge anywhere, even when it’s guaranteed to turn the audience against him.”
After all, Romney agreed to speak to the NAACP, but Obama gave it a pass this year, noted conservative pundit Michelle Malkin.
“Ok, President Obama, Romney went into NAACP lion’s den. When will YOU venture outside your bubble?” Malkin tweeted on Wednesday.
Others on the right noted that Romney got some applause from the NAACP members, as well. They approved of his mention of GOP school choice initiatives and his defense of what he called “traditional marriage.”
Left-leaning commentators were much less impressed. The liberal talk show host Ed Schultz of MSNBC tweeted that the booing was “an ugly moment for the candidate,” and that Romney tried to “sneak” the repeal Obamacare line past the audience.
And the Democratic National Committee quickly seized on the moment, sending out its own tweet asserting that under Romney’s proposed tax plan 2.2 million African American families would lose their current tax credits for children and earned income.
“Romney didn’t mention this to the NAACP,” read the DNC tweet.
Reporters who cover presidential campaigns often complain that it can become like “Groundhog Day,” listening to the candidates give the same speeches and recycle the same attack lines day after day.
But this year, the campaign feels more like “Trading Places” – or perhaps “Boomerang.”
Repeatedly, we’ve seen the Obama campaign launch an attack, only to find the exact same accusation hurled right back at them by the Romney folks. Multiple pundits on the left have dubbed it the “I’m rubber, you’re glue” approach, as it has become a predictable pattern in Campaign 2012.
Remember the Democratic charge that Republicans were waging a “war on women”? On Wednesday, American Crossroads, a GOP super PAC, has a new ad out accusing President Obama of waging a war on women “in our economy.”
Likewise, both sides have traded accusations over “flip-flopping” and being “out of touch.”
Perhaps the biggest boomerang to date came this week on outsourcing. For weeks, the Obama campaign has been hammering Mitt Romney for allegedly investing in companies that shipped jobs overseas during his tenure at Bain Capital. A hard-hitting attack ad asked if Americans really want “an outsourcer in chief in the White House.” Although Mr. Romney has denied the charges – and the independent group FactCheck.org found them to be “thinly supported” – the attacks seem to have had an impact, with Romney’s poll numbers weakening in swing states where the ads have been running.
So Romney turned the tables, accusing Mr. Obama on the trail this week of being the “outsourcer in chief.”
The Republican National Committee followed up with a website called “Obamanomics Outsourced: the Truth About How Obama Shipped the Recovery Overseas,” which lists stimulus funds that it claims wound up being spent outside the United States, on everything from LED lights to electric cars.
Many of these same accusations were used in an attack ad last spring by Americans for Prosperity, another GOP super PAC – and they were also debunked by FactCheck.org.
But the Romney campaign – like Obama – doesn’t need the charges to be fully validated (as The New York Times put it, “the two candidates and their allies have all but stuck their fingers in their ears while continuing with their outsourcing attacks”). Frankly, the Romney folks don’t even need the public to buy into the argument that Obama is the one who’s really guilty of outsourcing. They just need their counterattack to get enough attention – to enter into enough of the “outsourcing” discussion – that it effectively defuses the original attack. The ultimate goal is for the whole back-and-forth to become more political white noise that the public eventually just tunes out.
It's not a bad strategy, so far as it goes. The danger, however, is that it keeps Romney in a mostly defensive posture. Even if the counterattacks wind up having an impact, they’re still allowing the Obama campaign to drive the discussion. They’re reacting, instead of forcing the other side to react.
The Obama campaign’s main goal right now is to “define” Romney, and while Romney may have found an effective way to push back at some of the charges with his boomerang approach, he’s still not doing much to effectively define himself. That could prove a crucial lost opportunity.
Mitt Romney addressed on Wednesday the annual convention of the nation’s leading civil rights group, the NAACP. His pitch: my economic policies will help millions of middle class Americans of all races.
“I believe that if you understood who I truly am in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African-American families, you would vote for me for president,” said Mr. Romney to the NAACP.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee received a cool reception, despite his support for a number of policies the group opposes, including state voter ID laws. In contrast, Attorney General Eric Holder received a rousing reception on Monday by attacking voter ID, likening it to poll taxes designed to prevent minorities from voting.
This disparity pointed out the risks inherent in Romney’s appearance in Houston. Given that he’s running to unseat the nation’s first African-American president, was this speech a waste of time for the former Massachusetts governor? What’s the upside here – how many black votes might he win?
The answer is “not many.” But it was probably still worth it for the presumptive GOP nominee to make this speech.
First, the numbers. President Obama leads Romney among African-Americans by a whopping 92 percent to 6 percent, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. That’s the greatest disparity between the candidates for pretty much any demographic grouping.
For decades now the black vote has been a rock of support for Democratic presidents. Obama won 96 percent of African-Americans in 2008, for instance.
You have to go all the way back to the campaign of Richard Nixon in 1960 to find a Republican candidate who received substantially more minority votes. Nixon took 32 percent of black’s ballots in his (losing) effort that year. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Voting Rights Act. That’s what solidified the long drift of African-Americans towards the Democratic Party.
“No Republican presidential candidate has gotten more than 15 percent of the black vote since ,” points out journalist Brooks Jackson in a 2008 FactCheck.org piece on blacks and Democrats.
But for Romney, today’s speech was probably worth. Here are three reasons why:
He has to try. Given the closeness of the current presidential race, it appears as if every vote will count in November. In that context, Romney can’t afford to just write off a large demographic group. He may not get many African-American votes, but in the swing state of Virginia, say, a handful of ballots may swing the result either way.
It appeals to independents. Romney may not win many minority votes. But that’s not the whole point – there are substantial numbers of white voters who may be reluctant to support a presidential candidate who appears uninterested in reaching out to blacks. In that context, Romney’s appearance before the NAACP could be an attempt to appeal to moderates and soften his image.
“I don’t know that Mitt Romney is going to the NAACP to get votes, and I don’t know that he is going there to persuade any sizable numbers of black voters to vote for him.... The more relevant question is whether a President Mitt Romney is going to govern in an inclusive way. There is a group of white voters who don’t want to vote for a party that is racially exclusive ... so Mitt Romney reaching out to African Americans is perhaps a statement to [that] group of voters,” Davis told the Post.
It's a nod to the future. Romney may not win black votes in 2012, but his appearance could help lay the foundation for Republican candidates to make inroads in this constituency in coming years, according to former Republican National Committee chief Michael Steele.
“As far as I’m concerned, at this stage of the game this is kind of a moot point,” Mr. Steele told Talking Points Memo in a story on black Republicans’ reaction to the speech.
Steele has long called on the GOP to appear less ideological and to try harder to strike up relationships with important minority constituencies.
“The RNC has done very little since I left office to expand on the work that we had done in this area,” Steele told Talking Points Memo.
That question arises because it is presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s central criticism of the plan. Mr. Romney doubled down on this assertion at a campaign event Tuesday in Grand Junction, Colo., saying that higher taxes on “job creators and small businesses” are the last thing the struggling economy needs.
“That will kill jobs,” Romney said at the event.
On one level this analysis reflects basic Keynesian economics, say some conservative economists. Repealing tax cuts is indistinguishable from raising taxes, whatever the income level of the affected taxpayers. And raising taxes takes money out of the economy that otherwise might get spent on food, clothes, cars, and so forth.
“Perhaps [Obama] is unaware that the economy is struggling and that no reputable economic research supports the idea that raising taxes is good policy,” writes Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former chief economic adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, in National Review's The Corner blog.
On another level, say conservatives, the proposal to increase taxes on wealthier individuals will disproportionately hurt the largest job creation machine in the US economy – small businesses. That is because about 4 million small businesses with employees – sole proprietorships, partnerships, and other so-called “flow-through” firms – report their income on individual tax returns, according to US Treasury figures.
Of these, about 1.2 million report income greater than the cutoff for Mr. Obama’s proposed tax increase: $250,000 for couples filing jointly or $200,000 for individuals. This small, relatively successfully group reports about $341 billion in income. That’s 91 percent of the money earned by all flow-through employer businesses, according to Curtis Dubay, senior tax policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
“A higher tax bill would deprive the most successful flow-though employer-businesses of resources they would otherwise plow back into their business,” writes Mr. Dubay in a new analysis of Obama’s plan. “These investments would allow them to compete for more business and create more jobs in the process.”
The Obama camp sees this issue differently. As Obama pointed out in his announcement, in terms of numbers his proposal would affect only about 3 percent of the nation’s small businesses.
Furthermore, “Romney’s assertion that taxes affect business hiring decisions is simplistic,” writes Mr. Kessler in an analysis of the response to Obama’s tax proposal.
Money used for business expenses, such as employee wages, is fully tax deductible, according to Kessler. In that context, raising the taxes of small business owners could even provide an incentive for them to hire more workers, as it would be one way of shielding income that otherwise might be taxed at a new, higher rate by Uncle Sam.
In any case, this argument is notional. Obama’s plan has no greater chance of enactment into law than does ex-GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich’s proposal for a colony on the moon. With the campaign for the general presidential election fully upon us, proposals to close the nation’s yawning deficit gap or deal with the possible expiration of Bush-era tax cuts may have to wait until after November – or even well after November.
“After the all-out election wars, the warring parties will need to lower their voices, reduce their aspirations and sweeten up their attitudes. The election may help them to understand that the electorate is not going to give either one of them single-party control of government,” writes former Rep. Bill Frenzel (R) of Minnesota, a guest scholar in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, Tuesday in an analysis of the politics of the nation’s fiscal problems.