Tuesday, August 21, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Questions for Romney

Mitt Romney was supposed to lead President Obama by 10-12 points at this stage of the campaign. Instead, Romney is barely keeping up with Obama and, according to most polls, trails badly in the Electoral College, which is what counts.

Instead of attacking the Obama administration’s economic failures, Romney must answer questions about his tax returns. Many Republicans admit he’s paid ridiculously low tax rates even by the standards of the superrich. His rate is about half of what Paul Ryan pays and probably much less when all income is figured in.

Romney could have hit Obama on his record on jobs and the economy and coasted to the White House. Instead, Romney has to defend his preferential tax rates. Unless he’s hiding a terrible secret, he should have released his tax returns months ago and avoided a major distraction to his campaign.

Romney is faltering for several reasons: He’s not a good campaigner and looks like he’s No. 2 on the ticket. Over the weekend, he made another flip-flop: The ticket distanced itself from a Republican Senate candidate in Missouri who said rape victims never get pregnant, so they shouldn’t be allowed to get abortions. The Romney-Ryan campaign immediately issued a statement saying it supported abortions in case of rape. Ryan had previously sponsored legislation outlawing abortions even after a rape or incest.

Romney has also told Ryan to stop talking about cutting social programs and eliminating the capital-gains tax, which would lower Romney’s taxes to almost nothing.

Ryan at least believes in the remedies he’s pushing — huge tax cuts for the wealthy to stimulate investment, privatizing Social Security and Medicare — while Romney has few strongly held beliefs, apart from his devotion to his church and keeping his taxes very low. He’s changed his mind on universal health care, abortion, gun control, amnesty for illegal immigrants and about every major issue in American politics.

What’s more, Romney may even have misrepresented his true residency when he claimed his son’s Boston basement as his home address so he could vote in a Senate primary after Ted Kennedy died and pay lower state income tax than in California, where he owns a big home.

Give Mike Huckabee this much credit: When he abandoned Arkansas as his home and built a large beachfront house in Florida, everyone knew he was doing it to avoid paying his state income tax. Sure, he turned his back on Arkansas, which educated him and nurtured his career, but at least he was honest about his move: Florida does not have a state income tax. But he didn’t claim he had moved into his son’s basement in Destin.

Romney has been running for president for a decade, so he should have cleaned up his tax returns and paid a little more — still less than his running mate, but not a laughably low rate either.

A presidential campaign can handle only so many distractions before it falters and time runs out, but here we are, a week before the Republican convention, and Romney is still defending his low tax rates—about 13 percent, although that figure could include state and local taxes. That’s not very much, when many middle-class families pay about 40 percent when all taxes are figured.

But he still insists that besides the 2010 returns he released earlier this year, he’ll release only his 2011 tax returns, which should be ready before the election but perhaps not in time for the presidential debates.

Voters might wonder if they’re supposed to make up for the millions in tax breaks granted to Mitt Romney.