Romney Camp Needs to Internalize Tax Return Lesson Before the Debates

It’s hard to believe, Save Jerseyans, but the FIRST presidential debate is schedule for next Wednesday (10/3) in Denver, Colorado.

Where did the time go???

I’m sure Mitt Romney and his campaign team are wondering the same thing. Election 2012 is just 44 days away and our 44th President continues to lead the former Governor of Massachusetts — albeit very narrowly — in electoral collge battleground polling. Romney/Ryan can still win this thing, but they need to be on their game over the next several weeks.

For Mitt, I think that means abandoning caution and timidity in favor of jarring honesty. With a smile.

This frustratingly frivolous tax return story is a prime example.

Now that we’ve finally seen a copy of Mitt and Ann Romney’s 2011 tax return and a summary of their other returns going back to 1990, you’re probably asking the same question that I am:

What was the big deal? And why didn’t the Romney campaign treat these returns as a net-positive for its candidate? 

If the concern was that Mitt would be perceived as paying less than his “fair share” (whatever that means) because so much of his income is derived from investments and taxed at a lower rate than W-2 income, it’s nevertheless easily explained by averaging his effective tax rate between 1990 and 1990: 20.2%. The average effective tax rate of a Middle Class American family during the same period was 5.7%, so both in terms of raw dollars paid and percentage of tax dollars paid, Mitt is clearly paying far more to Uncle Same than an average American taxpayer. Millions more and, according to published analysis, more than he likely needed to pursuant to applicable tax law.

There was nothing to fear!

To boot, Mitt donated 30% of his 2011 income to charity. It wasn’t just an election eve stunt; the Romneys have donated, on average, 13.45% of their adjusted gross income over the last 20 years.

Isn’t that something you’d WANT to tell voters?

Why would the Romney campaign wait MONTHS to release this objectively positive tax information? Allowing Democrats to drag Mitt’s character through the mud with wildly unsubstantiated accusations? Then dump it all on a Friday afternoon when no one can see them (something campaigns typically do with BAD news)?

A healthy offensive action in support of Mitt Romney’s extremely charitable financial history could’ve helped close the “favorability” gap that has opened up between the candidates, something which could make a real difference down the home stretch. Instead, the Romney campaign held on to the returns and buoyed the Democrat attempt to cast Romney as a greedy, cold capitalist.

What’s done is done. And like I’ve already said, this race isn’t over yet… just much closer to being over than it was one month ago. Now is the time for corrective action. Heading into the debates, Mitt Romney needs to stop being so self-conscious about who he is (a rich, extremely successfully dude) and start saying some of what he’s said to donors behind closed doors directly to President Obama’s face when they’re standing just feet apart. Contrasts defeat incumbents. Timidity will not.

We saw some of the requisite winner’s courage from Mitt when he passionately addressed the NAACP and tapped Paul Ryan to be his running mate; clearly from that point on, at some level, he and his staff were already acknowledging that this race couldn’t be won with a “safe” jobs-only campaign. The debates need to reflect the fact that they’ve internalized this reality or Barack Obama will win another four years in the White House.