Barack Obama may be the smartest politician alive. He beat the Clinton Machine and is about to do the same to the billionaire SuperPAC'd GOP— therehastobeaway (@THTBAW) August 17, 2012
Let me say that one more time: Barack Obama may be the smartest politician alive. He beat the Clinton Machine and is about to do the same to the billionaire SuperPAC'd GOP.
There is strong evidence to suggest the Obama Team essentially politically engineered Paul Ryan's VP selection to make the Medicare fight a central piece of the news cycle and debate, by forcing Romney's hand from a potentially winning "referendum on Obama's economy" frame to the grim "choice between two visions of America: Backwards or Forward". Needless to say, the Romney camp has lost control of the message a mere days after announcing Ryan as its VP, and both of them are in a compromising situation yielding headlines like "The Romney Spell: Paul Ryan Starts Flip-Flopping Days After VP Selection". Whether this is 11-dimensional chess or just chess in the three dimensions we know, none of this is happenstance. Say what you may about Obama's ability to play political chess, but the man knows how to play a long game.
So it was not surprising to discover this morning that, just one day after Romney asked America to swallow, without evidence, that he has paid no less than 13% in taxes for the past 10 years (and uttered with the conviction that this 13% was fair, if it was even referring to income tax proper), and to take his word for it, as if his statement alone ought to suffice and put to rest the public's clamoring to see more than the one year of tax returns he has released, Obama has laid out a masterful trap for Romney: let's make a deal. You show us the money, and we'll move on past the tax returns. It is beautiful, and I'll explain in a moment.
President Obama's campaign is offering Mitt Romney a deal: Release five years of tax returns, and we'll stop demanding more.The elegant simplicity of this message belies a more exacting strategical brilliance. Three reasons:
Americans love a good deal.
We love walking into a place, haggling with the merchant, and coming away with the smug feeling that we talked the price down. We respond well to coupons and two-for-ones and buy-one-get-one-frees, even when we know deep down that the businesses we just gave our money to somehow got the best us; we probably spent more money overall, but that's okay, because we loved that good deal. We're also a reasonable people; though our individualistic streak is unmistakable, we love "to be leveled with". Give us a good reason why we should not do something, and we may back down even though we really, really want to do it. This is part of our national character. So we know a good deal when we see one, and this "5 years of tax returns" gauntlet is a good deal. The underlying message of this thus connects with us.
Romney cried uncle just a week ago, asking for a truce.
When Romney asked, on August 10, for Obama to please stop attacking his business record and taxes, many of us scratched our heads wondering why Romney believes those things to be off the table, given that he ran in large part on his business cred and that his own father pioneered the sort of tax return transparency that is now industry standard (even if not legally required). It also didn't make him look too commanding, and the implication that we only ought to be talking about "the issues" he finds of value struck many of us as off-key. But the most interesting aspect of Romney's pronouncement was that Romney opened himself up to...a truce. What would he do if the Obama Team called his bluff? Well, they now have. When Jim Messina says, "I am prepared to provide assurances on just that point: if the Governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more -- neither in ads nor in other public communications or commentary for the rest of the campaign. ", he's essentially giving Romney a chance to own up to his call for a truce, and, in doing so, is setting Romney up beautifully to either backpedal or accede–on Obama's terms.
Lastly, the logical tax return endgame for Romney doesn't look good either way.
Regardless of how this all plays out, it will not be good for Romney. This is a veritable trap, and will be said to have been of Romney's own making: he shifted, he swayed, he obstructed and delayed, and at the end of the day, he couldn't take the heat.
Scenario 1: He relented and showed America at least some of his tax returns, and what's in those returns may not be illegal, but will nonetheless show just how much juicier those tax brackets are for the rich, how utterly unfair-for-their-share the tax code is, and how badly we need to overhaul the tax code period. Until recently, how many of us knew what a capital gains tax was? How many headlines were there of the super-rich paying 13% tax rates? Romney's tax releases may end up doing more for the Occupy Movement than the left could ever dream of. (Mind you, this is without the possibility that there may very well be something in those returns that may be an election-year loser: some would say to follow the 2009 return. This is a calculated move.)
Scenario 2: He steadfastly refused to show America his tax returns, even though his father did it; even though his main opponent did it; even though his own vetted VP candidates had to do it; even though it dominated news cycles for weeks; even though citizens at pep rallies demanded it and the right wing ripped him for not releasing them; even though some of his strongest ideological supporters, people like Huntsman Sr., thought he should have; and, most damningly, even though Obama offered him the sweetest deal of all: release returns for just the past five years, and we'll believe what you've said about the past ten.
We ran the clock out on Bain. We're running out the clock on his tax returns. We have over two more months to go until the election, and god knows what Obama's opposition research team has stockpiled for us.
We are winning, and everyone knows it. We are winning despite the billionaires and the Super PACs. But let me remind you of the reason: Barack Obama may be the smartest politician alive.
And he is on our side.