Romney’s `Swift-Baining, Tippy-Toes’ and Possible Return on Disclosure

Photograph by Reed Saxon/AP Photo

Luciano Guadalupe joins demonstrators protesting outside the site of a fundraiser for Mitt Romney at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.

Mitt Romney “on his tippy-toes.”

It’s a curious image to conjure.

Yet there’s a lot of dancing going on in campaign circles today.

As Romney’s campaign accused President Barack Obama of taking special care of his friendly donors, the president’s campaign maintained that Romney is trying to change the subject amid demands for him to release more of his personal financial records.

“President Obama has set a bar of transparency that Mitt Romney has not met, cannot possibly meet, even on his tippy-toes,” Jen Psaki, the president’s traveling campaign press secretary, said today aboard Air Force One en route to Obama’s appearances in Ohio. “We have released bundlers, we release people regularly who visit the White House. We release far more than Mitt Romney has come close to.”

“These are old, tired, haggard attacks,” Psaki said, accusing Romney of trying to “to change the conversation because he doesn’t want to answer questions about his time at Bain Capital.”

Romney is answering a lot of questions about his time at Bain, the private equity firm he co-founded and ran for many years with great success — he maintains that while he held his stake in the firm after leaving in February 1999 to run the Olympics,  he relinquished control over decisions the company made, choices which the Obama campaign now challenges in painting Romney as the “outsourcer-in-chief.”

As for the charges of cronyism, White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested today in the “gaggle” with reporters aboard Air Force One that the Republican-run House has spent a lot of “time and energy” probing all that “and they’ve come out with exactly zero evidence… of improper behavior.”

“He’s treading on thin ice here,” said Psaki, conjuring up yet more dancing imagery.

Joe Klein, seasoned campaign watcher, Time magazine columnist and creator of  “Primary Colors,” says he’s seen this picture before. The Obama campaign, he suggests, is painting the Romney campaign with the same brush with which George H.W. Bush painted Michael Dukakis in 1988 — or with which the “Swift Boat” campaign painted John Kerry in 2004.

(Romney was asked during his round-robin appearances on five network news programs Friday night — on CNN — if he feels he’s being “Swift-Boated,” and he declined to take that bait. So Klein and company on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today went ahead and said it for Romney — he’s being “Swift-Bained.”)

The point, though, is that the art of the campaign dance often involves turning a candidate’s presumed strength into his weakness — making a mockery of Kerry’s multiple medals from the war in Vietnam, for instance, or in this case turning Romney’s great success in private business against him. (Note, too, that Dukakis, Kerry and Romney all hailed from Massachusetts.)

Romney is making his own calculation in this dance.

Think of it as a return on disclosure — much like the return on investment anyone expects in a good business move.

The return, for Romney, in disclosing 23 years of personal federal income tax returns when Arizona Senator John McCain was considering him as a possible running mate in 2004 was great: he could have been a vice presidential contender. The risk was nil. It was part of a private vetting. What was said in Arizona stayed in Arizona.

The return, for Romney is disclosing a dozen of so years of returns in his 2012 bid for the White House could be great in one way: Assuring the voting public that he has nothing to hide. Yet it could carry huge risk: returns that disclose even smaller tax payments than the 13.9 percent  effective tax rate he paid in his one fully disclosed tax return, for 2010 — or perhaps years of no payments. Or income from some of those dealings for which Bain is being most deeply scrutinized. Or more tax havens.

This is a candidate who reported no wages, salaries or tips in 2010 — rather $12.6 million in capital gains, $4.9 million in ordinary dividends and $3.3 million in taxable interest. So it’s little wonder that the Obama campaign, working to turn Romney’s assets into liabilities, thinks it’s keeping Romney on his toes.




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