How does the Mitt Romney campaign defend itself against charges -- entirely accurate, in this case -- that the man who wants to replace President Obama got filthy rich on the backs of middle-class working stiffs, pays a tax rate substantially below those stiffs and hides some of his income in offshore tax havens?
The answer is that you portray your critics as "liberals."
That seems to be the emerging strategy as Romney and his surrogates push back against a groundswell of allegations that he has something to hide and criticism from his Republican competitors and the White House over how he amassed a fortune estimated to be as large as a quarter of a billion dollars, which makes Romney one of the wealthiest men ever to run for president.
The wealth of Nelson Rockefeller and Ross Perot was not an issue when those billionaires ran for president, but with an impeccable sense of timing for Romney's opponents, the gaping chasm between the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and the middle class has become a lightning rod issue first with the Occupy Wall Street protests and now with stories in the news media detailing how Romney, as CEO of Bain Capital, destroyed companies, which resulted in thousands of workers being laid off. That in itself is not necessary awful. Capitalism is not always a pretty sight, but what has Romney's opponents on the attack is that Bain and its CEO made obscenely high profits on many of the plant closures.
Romney's admission that he pay taxes at about a 15 percent rate and his refusal to release his tax returns, something that he has been consistent in doing even in 1994 when he ran for the Senate in Massachusetts and demanded that Teddy Kennedy make public his returns, has added fuel to the fire in highlighting the inherent unfairness of the tax code.
The candidate now says that he may release his 2011 returns in April, surely after an army of accountants has sliced and diced his wealth in an effort to mute criticism, and he has flip-flopped almost daily on whether he would support ending a carried-interest tax loophole that allows him to pay taxes at a rate far lower than President Obama and most other Americans. He has thus far refused to release returns for earlier years.
The controversy also is casting unwelcome attention on Romney's affiliation with the Mormon Church.
Romney practices tithing, donating at least 10 percent of his income to the church that he deducts from his income. While the practice is entirely legal, some voters are biased against Mormons and the church has reaped more than $13 million over the last 15 years by selling shares in companies that Bain invested in.
Whether the charge that Romney's critics are "liberals" will resonate with Republican voters, who on the whole have remained lukewarm to him, remains to be seen. And the controversy will eventually peak, possibly making it less of an issue when the election campaign shifts into high gear after Labor Day.* * * * *Meanwhile, polls are showing Newt Gingrich, closing the gap between he and Romney two days before the South Carolina primary, with one poll showing him in the lead. But the situation, as they say, is fluid.
The final Republican presidential debate in the state is tonight, while later in the evening ABC's Nightline will air an interview with Marianne Gingrich, who was the victim of her ex-husband's infidelities for six years.
Expect Gingrich to continue his attacks on Romney, which may gain additional traction with Rick Perry bowing out of the race, while excerpts from the Nightline interview seem like a rehash of what has long been known.
Marianne Gingrich says that her husband asked her to have an "open marriage" to continue an affair with a congressional aide, Callista Bisek, the woman who is his current wife.
"I said to him, 'We’ve been married a long time,' "Marianne Gingrich says in an excerpt from the interview released this morning. "And he said, 'Yes but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn’t care what I do.' "
Gingrich is desperate to siphon off as much of the conservative vote from Rick Santorum, who it turns out actually won the Iowa caucuses, as he can. He also is hoping that the endorsement of Rick Perry, who is returning to Texas where he can declare war on Turkey, will help, as well as his statement that he will ask Sarah Palin, who also has endorsed him, "to play a major role" in his administration.
Thank dog that will never come to pass.