(video via TPM)

Following Mitt Romney’s response toward questions about his personal wealth and fortune is very fascinating. At the moment, there is nothing to suggest he’s done anything illegal or unethical in earning or investing his money. It does appear that he’s taken extensive measures to pay the minimal amount of taxes he can, which could be a political problem, but possibly one solved by releasing a strong proposal to simplify the tax code. He could say something like, “Of course I take advantage of opportunities to keep more of my money. Who wouldn’t? That’s not immoral, that’s just smart. Of course, not everyone can do that now because of how complicated a lot of this stuff is, which is why I support reworking the tax code to make it fairer to everyone, cutting out loopholes while lowering everyone’s rates.” This could be a winning move. But he’s not making it.

It seems pretty clear from this video and from a lot of other recent data (his comment about how inequality should only be discussed in “quiet rooms”, that the subject is just a subtle form of envy, etc.) that Mitt Romney is extremely unwilling to talk frankly about his wealth. He comes off here, as elsewhere, as entitled, defensive, and angry that the topic has even come up. Of course, the topic has come up partly due to the mood of the times, as the discussion over spending has shifted forcefully into one about, well, income inequality and unemployment. But it’s also because Romney has made his extremely lucrative tenure at Bain Capital the centerpiece of his campaign, and part of that story is the phenomenal wealth he accumulated while working there. Had he downplayed this aspect of his resume and focused instead upon anything else in his life, it’s easy to imagine his personal wealth becoming far less of an issue at this stage. But while Romney’s tenure at Bain wasn’t just about firing people to win a big payday, there’s more than a kernel of truth to that interpretation. Romney really ought to have braced himself for this stuff better than he has, as this is basic strategy 101: figuring out what to do, and what consequences that might have. I see little evidence of that.

Romney’s responses to inquiries on this subject have been incredibly tone-deaf. After all, Republican voters are not reflexively anti-rich. Far from it. Full disclosure and a self-deprecating remark or two could help it go down much, much easier. But Romney seems incapable of accepting scrutiny–not even always attacks, just basic scrutiny–of his wealth in any kind of stride. In fact, an interesting mini-arc of his campaign is quickly developing: Romney is spending great energy to justify how he earned his money and delegitimize those who call it into question. Responding to earnest questions with slashing rhetoric about class envy, North Korea and the like merely fuel the flame and give more attention to these matters, which hurts him and is basically strategically unsound. Romney is becoming sidetracked with defending his wealth and shouting down discussions about inequality, partly to neutralize a political attack but with tremendous overkill that’s typically been backfiring. I mean, does anyone actually think Newt Gingrich loves North Korea? (Okay, maybe I think he appreciates their model of governance, but still…) It really seems to this observer that this is Romney’s own personal baggage making him do this (though one could argue it’s an ideological matter for the Republicans, though not one they typically put this baldly). All of which is to say that it looks like we’ve found a pressure point on old Mitt. I’m sure the GOP is just thrilled about this.


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