Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Capital Games

AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari
Mitt Romney has now disclosed that he paid only 14.5 percent of his reported income in federal income taxes in 2010. That’s no surprise. My group, Citizens for Tax Justice, predicted as much last fall, based on Romney’s previous disclosure that almost all of his 2010 income came from capital gains and dividends taxed at the low 15 percent top rate. Newt Gingrich insists that this is not fair. Touting his own “flat tax” proposal on January 17, Newt said, “I think we ought to rename our flat tax, we have a 15 percent flat tax, so this would be the ‘Mitt Romney flat tax.’ All Americans would pay the rate Mitt Romney paid. I think it’s terrific.” Putting aside the fact that Newt’s preposterous flat tax would slash federal revenues by $18 trillion over the next decade, there’s another noteworthy flaw in his argument. Gingrich’s actual “flat tax” proposal would cut Romney’s tax rate to zero (because it exempts all investment income from tax). With the two leading Republican presidential...

Mitt Romney's Entitlement Problem

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect Mitt Romney address a crowd in Columbia, South Carolina. Obviously, Mitt Romney’s tax returns are gold for the Obama campaign, which can accurately describe the former Massachusetts governor as emblematic of the extreme wealth disparities in the United States. His income of $20.9 million in 2011—nearly all of it from profits, dividends, or interest from investments—is a staggering amount of money. For context, as Bloomberg ’s Richard Rubin points out , “In 2008, according to the IRS, the median adjusted gross income was $33,048, which Romney made in less than a day.” Thanks to the Occupy movement—with the help of opportunistic politicians—income inequality is on the political agenda, and in this environment, immense wealth is a huge political liability. A smart candidate would use this fact and retool his message away from the glories of free-market capitalism and toward one that—at the very least—acknowledged that Americans were uncomfortable with...

None of the Above

Mitt Romney cruised through 2011 on the idea that he was the most electable conservative candidate. And, for the first two weeks of 2012, it looked as if he were about to prove it. He won a narrow victory in the conservative stronghold of Iowa and a landslide in the more moderate New Hampshire. But that’s when everything changed. Opponents began to question his record and his ideological bona fides, with attacks on his former company, Bain Capital, and his past as a moderate governor of Massachusetts. His victory in Iowa slipped away after a recount, and voters in South Carolina rejected him—by a double-digit margin—in favor of Newt Gingrich, a son of the South. More important, Romney handled himself poorly throughout, with a major fumble on the issue of his tax returns, and his low, low tax rate ( 13.9 percent on an income of $45 million, if you were wondering). In a little more than a week, Romney lost his lead in the Palmetto State, lost the state itself, and lost his lead in the...

All the Taxes Owed

AP Photo
Mitt Romney's reluctance to reveal his income and tax information received center-stage attention once again at last night's debate. After weeks of immense scrutiny and criticism from his opponents, Romney caved and agreed to release his tax returns from 2010 and the projections for his 2011 return. "I pay all the taxes owed. And not a penny more," Romney said at the debate. "I don't think we want someone running for president who pays more taxes than he owes." Thanks to leaks from Reuters , we now know Romney's exact figure: $6.2 million over the course of 2010 and 2011 . That's an unimaginable sum to most Americans, but it represents a pittance of Romney's annual earnings, which total more than $45 million over those two years. He paid an effective tax rate of just 13.9 percent last year, with the majority of his income taxed at the capital-gains rate of 15 percent. That's about the same level as a couple making less than $70,000 per year. To Romney's credit, he might not chip in...

Quiet Time

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Whether intentionally or not, NBC News handicapped Newt Gingrich by asking the audience to stay quiet during the Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Florida. In South Carolina, the audience was a source of energy for Gingrich. With their whoops and hollers, they emboldened the former House speaker and cowed his competitors. By contrast, without an obvious sign of support from the crowd, Gingrich was surprisingly vulnerable to Mitt Romney’s attacks on his record. And as the candidate with the most to lose in Florida, Romney was relentless, aggressively pressing Gingrich on his ties to Freddie Mac. Here’s the exchange in full: Because there wasn’t an overall direction to Romney’s attacks, it’s hard to say that there was a knock-out moment. But in a state hard hit by the foreclosure crisis, it’s enough for Romney to raise the issue and present Gingrich as an inside man for an industry that ruined life for thousands of Floridians. What’s more, this exchange illustrated the extent to...

Romney's Plan B

The whuppin’ Mitt Romney took in South Carolina made one thing abundantly clear: The man desperately needs a new rationale for his candidacy. “Electability” doesn’t cut it when your own party starts rejecting you. And in a time of renewed class consciousness, neither does touting yourself as a grand master of private equity. “He can’t run for CEO any more,” writes Michael Walsh at NRO. So what can he run as? If his campaigning in Florida today was any indication, the Romney people have no answer as yet. At a rally in Ormond Beach, Romney went whole-hog negative against Gingrich. “We’re not choosing a talk show host, we’re choosing a leader,” Romney said, while denouncing Gingrich’s “failure” as House speaker and railing about his Freddie Mac lobbying gig . In Tampa, he labeled Gingrich “highly erratic.” Of course, there are millions of miles of bad Gingrich road to use as fodder for attacks. But will going all attack-dog make Romney a more appealing candidate? RedState’s Erick...

Turning Tide

Mitt Romney had little reason for concern heading into Saturday's primary in South Carolina. Sure, it looked as if Newt Gingrich would eke out a victory in the state, but Romney's status as the inevitable front-runner would remain unchallenged. The Florida primary at the end of the month would likely prove his knockout blow; he has held a massive lead in Florida polls—often topping 20 percent—and also has a resource advantage over Gingrich and a steady flow of support from popular establishment Republicans eyeballing a position in a Romney administration. Those advantages suddenly crumbled away over the past 48 hours. Romney didn't just lose South Carolina, he was drubbed. Gingrich's 13-point victory was even larger than George W. Bush's margin over John McCain in 2000. His fellow Republicans, who once flocked to his campaign in order to get in early with the preordained nominee, are showing a moment of pause. It had been reported the previous week that former Florida Governor Jeb...

The Medium

The Republican party has a very big problem on its hands, in the person of one Newton Leroy Gingrich. With his win in South Carolina, he has an actual shot at becoming their nominee for president, which, as the clear-headed among them know, would be a disaster. Just look at these poll results . Over the last six weeks or so as the spotlight turned on the presidential race, Gingrich's unfavorable ratings have shot up, presumably because Americans are being reminded of why they disliked him so much back in the 1990s. He's now viewed unfavorably by an average of 58.6 percent of the public, and favorably by only 26.5 percent. But that one-quarter of the electorate happens to be known as the Republican base. How is he doing it? The answer is that he has become a medium through which that base hears themselves speaking. Nobody knows how to reach in and tickle the Republican id quite like Newt, to work their resentments, their fears, their anger and their hatred. And what he's saying to them...

Atlas Slugged

A lthough Newt Gingrich has dominated the headlines since Saturday night, what happened in the South Carolina primary is less about Gingrich’s rise than it is about Mitt Romney’s fall. The right's determination to find anyone other than Romney—illustrated over the last eight months by the hot flashes of support for Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain—has become desperate to the point that evangelicals supported a twice-divorced man who, by the account of one of his discarded spouses, aspired to manage a small harem. Moreover, they’re so frantic to be rid of Romney that they implicitly sanctioned Gingrich’s attacks against the former Massachusetts governor's personal financial gain. Thus the front-runner founders on the very finances that provided his candidacy a rationale. But Romney’s problem isn’t how much money he has. His problem is how he made it, how he’s kept it, and how come he won’t talk about it. If Romney’s campaign for the presidency should collapse, the...

The Carolina Conundrum

T he day before his decisive victory in the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich held a rally in Mount Pleasant on the USS Yorktown , a retired World War II-era aircraft carrier that has been turned into a museum of naval history. It was a huge event. Hundreds of people filed onto the ship to hear Newt “give 'em hell”—with “'em” being a combination of Democrats, the “liberal media,” and the Republican establishment. Even then, with a clear demonstration of Newt’s momentum, I wasn’t sure that he could pull out a win on Saturday. After all, as far as GOP primaries are concerned, South Carolina Republicans aren’t known for their embrace of firebrands; nearly every time, they validate the elite choice. And with the strength of the establishment behind him, Mitt Romney seemed like he would likely continue the trend. As it turned out, of course, my lack of faith was unfounded. The mass of undecided South Carolinians—nearly half of voters made their choice within a few days of the primary—...

Politics of Resentment

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect Newt Gingrich supporters hold up signs in support of the candidate after his victory in South Carolina. COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA —At 7:01—one minute after the polls closed—the local news affiliate announced the results of the South Carolina Republican primary. Newt Gingrich was the projected winner, with a margin in the double-digits. For the already large crowd of supporters waiting in the ballroom of the Columbia Hilton, where the Gingrich campaign scheduled its election-night event, this was the moment they had waited for. Dozens of people began to shout the former Speaker’s name—”Newt, Newt, Newt!”—as they waved signs and the DJ blared a (ridiculous) techno cover of Journey’s hit single, “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Among the chanters was Vicki Sciolaro, a volunteer for Gingrich who had traveled 900 miles from Leewood, Kansas to support the former House Speaker in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. “He is brilliant,” she said,...

Dark Horse Victory

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
In one of the most startling turnarounds in presidential-primary history, Newt Gingrich scored a double-digit victory in South Carolina over Mitt Romney on Saturday. When the week began, Romney was coming off an easy win in New Hampshire and had a comfortable-looking lead in every state poll. Every political forecaster in America saw him as the inevitable Republican nominee. But his worst debate performance of the campaign on Monday night was followed by a week of fumbles that gave the lie to his campaign’s legendary “discipline.” Romney, cast as a “vulture capitalist” and out-of-touch one-percenter—in a state with high unemployment—could not even muster a clear answer to questions about releasing his tax returns. Gingrich, who finished fourth in both Iowa and New Hampshire, eased up on his denunciations of Romney’s record at Bain Capital—with the damage already done—and made the most of his local knowledge from next-door Georgia to deliver rabble-rousing performances at Monday and...

No One Cares About the Affair

Jamelle Bouie Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks to a crowd in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina —One of the larger tourist landmarks in the Charleston-area is a decommissioned warship that’s been converted to a museum. Naturally—as a “grandiose” person—this is where Newt Gingrich held his final rally before the South Carolina primary. Due to bad weather, the event was moved below the flight deck into a hangar. The delay was annoying for reporters—and early birds—but it was great for attendance; by the time Gingrich came to the stage, the hangar was packed with people. Gingrich was introduced by the Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives—who recently endorsed the GOP hopeful—and General James Livingston, who praised the former House Speaker as someone who knew how to “kill the enemy.” As for the actual speech, it began with a group of Cub Scouts, who he brought on stage, and a heckler. The person yelled at Gingrich to release his ethics...

Take Your Free Speech Elsewhere

NORTH CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA —Mitt Romney’s events are usually calm, which is why it was a surprise to hear yelling and see police drag two people, apparently Occupy protesters, out of the crowd. “She’s being choked! She’s being choked!” yelled one of the protesters, and I—along with several other reporters—rushed to see what the commotion was about. After dragging them onto a parking lot, the police went back, leaving the two demonstrators shouting at both the police and the Romney campaign. I spoke with one of the protesters, Adrianna Varedi, a member of Occupy Charleston, and she explained the situation. “I was standing in line, quietly, reaching out to shake his [Romney’s] hand, when someone forcefully grabbed me from behind, and dragged me out,” she said, catching her breath as the color returned to her face. Another one of the Occupiers, an older man named Paul Getsos, explained that this wasn’t the first time someone had been removed from a Romney event “The advance...

The Thrill is Back

If it was obvious within seconds of Thursday night’s debate that Newt Gingrich was going to hit another rhetorical home run—only long as it took for him to glare icily and say “No, but I will” when John King asked if he wanted to comment about his ex-wife’s unsavory accusations—it was equally clear that Mitt Romney had struck out again when he tried to make a joke out of moderator King’s question about making his tax returns public. Would he follow in his father’s presidential-candidate footsteps and release a dozen years’ worth of returns? “Maybe,” the frontrunner said, affecting the sort of goofy look that flailing stand-up comics resort to when their material is hopelessly lame. (And then, like Romney, they get well-deserved catcalls and boos instead of laughs.) At least until tomorrow night’s South Carolina results come in, the CNN debate was the thrills-and-chills capper to a week that breathed—no, heaved and spat—life back into the Republican contest. Huntsman out . Perry out ...

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