Last week, we learned that nothing will ever improve President Obama’s image in the world more than Mitt Romney traveling abroad. Mitt insulted all of London, praised socialized medicine in Israel and brought along an aide who told reporters to “Kiss my ass!” at a holy site in Poland. The lesson was: When your schtick only appeals to people who hate the President of the United States, it’s hard to be diplomatic.
Mitt then returned home from that mess to face the biggest mess of his campaign: taxes.
No, not the controversy around his tax returns. Though you probably know that Harry Reid, who happens to be the highest-ranking Mormon in the U.S. government, publically accused Mitt of not paying any taxes for the last ten years. This accusation, the Senate Majority Leader claimed, was based on information from a very credible investor in Bain Capital. Now making accusations based on hearsay is a low down, dirty honey badger tactic, no doubt. (It’s a tactic so low down and dirty that it’s reminiscent of how Mitt demanded that Ted Kennedy release his tax returns in 1994 and that his opponent’s spouse release his returns in the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial primary — while refusing to release his own.)
Actually, Mitt’s real mess is his tax plan—which we now know would raise taxes on 95 percent of Americans. A new study by the Tax Policy Center pointed out that Mitt’s plan includes massive tax breaks for the richest Americans while leaving middle class families to pay up to $2,000 more a year.
Suddenly Mitt’s incredibly low 14 percent personal tax rate on an income of over $20 million a year became more than a talking point about fairness. It was an example of the kind of tax policy he believes in: Millionaires like him need more tax cuts and the middle class needs to pay for them.
And suddenly, Mitt needed to distract attention from his new status as a Republican nominee proposing to raise taxes on the middle class. What to do?
First, attack the group that produced the study — which is a group you once praised as “objective” and “non-partisan.” When that doesn’t work, change the subject.
What did Mitt decide to change the subject to? The auto industry. Romney released an ad Thursday that blamed the President for a GM dealership closing. What the ad didn’t mention is that if Mitt Romney had his way, there would be no GM dealerships in America any more.
Yes, Mitt is now past the point of taking credit for an auto rescue he opposed. He is now saying that he would have saved more dealerships.
This is why Mitt is one of the most unlikable presidential contenders on record. He rejects the one useful accomplishment of his life—Romneycare. At the same time, he says the President can’t run on his record and then tries to run on the President’s record of saving the auto industry.
Mitt Romney taking credit for the auto rescue is like John McCain taking credit for keeping Sarah Palin out of the White House. It’s like the Coyote taking credit for the Roadrunner’s good health. It’s like Al Gore taking credit for hotter summers.
In 2008, only one national figure opposed the rescue of the auto industry: Mitt Romney. In an op-ed he placed in the New York Times charitably headlined “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” Mitt wrote, “If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.” It was an easy position to take because at that point, government bailouts were less popular than even George W. Bush and Bernie Madoff.
Mitt wanted private equity firms like his own Bain Capital to finance managed bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler, while global markets were crumbling. The problem was that firms like Bain refused to do so. So the government stepped in. The Obama Administration then took over the rescue.
Three years later, the rebirth of the auto industry has sparked an economic renewal in Ohio and Michigan that no one anticipated.
Yes, Ohio and Michigan. Romney can’t win the election without Ohio, a state that history says no Republican can lose in a successful presidential campaign. And if he wins Michigan, one of his home states, his election would be guaranteed. These are the two states that had the most to lose if the auto industry had disappeared and took one of every eight American jobs with it.
Mitt’s campaign is a mess, but he won’t sink below 45-46 percent of the vote because he has already been spent close to a billion dollars to slander this President. But if he’s counting on the voters of Ohio and Michigan to ignore the tax increases he’s proposing for the middle class or to forget where Mitt stood when they needed him most, he’s only fooling himself.