What Does Mitt Romney Really Think About Tax Plan?
What does Mitt Romney want, and what does it mean for a politician to “want” something, anyway?
These have been the two questions at the heart of this week’s debate over Mitt Romney’s tax plan, the first somewhat explicit and the second unrealized but lurking behind the scenes nonetheless. Anthony Resnick sketched out the argument in yesterday’s column on the culture war, but the short of it is this: the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center analyzed Romney’s notably vague tax plan and found that it would raise taxes on the middle class, even though the authors bent over backwards to be charitable toward the Republican candidate.
Republicans have protested that the Obama campaign is using the report to say that Romney wants to raise taxes on the middle class, when in fact Romney has said no such thing. Of course he has not—it would be political suicide—but all the talk of what Romney wants both misses the point and illuminates a strange tendency I have noticed in political media: the seemingly never-ending desire to bypass stated beliefs and overlook explicit policy plans and campaign platforms, instead magically burrowing inside the heart, mind, and soul of every political candidate in order to discover his or her true beliefs and real intentions.
Why oh why must we do this? I am tempted to throw some blame, as we can for most everything, at George W. Bush, who ran as an isolationist compassionate conservative, a description that seems laughably tragic in hindsight. You have to admit that after this, it only seems a logical response for the media to try to pin down exactly what the hell a candidate is going to do in office.
But this phenomenon seems even more prevalent than usual when it comes to both Romney and Obama. The obsession with what Obama truly, deep down, really believes stems from a variety of factors—chief among them, paranoia—which we’ll discuss in a future column. But when it comes to Romney, I believe that because his positions have been so all over the place, his current views so different from the ones he has stated in the past that it has led to a sort of free-for-all guessing game on what a Romney presidency will actually look like.
The danger in this is that so many people have reached the wrong conclusions; there has been a strange undercurrent to this campaign, one in which many folks seem to believe that Romney will govern as a moderate, because at heart he is really a moderate, not one of those crazy Republicans. I agree that Mitt Romney is probably not crazy or lunatic on many topics beyond his hair, but that is beside the point. Romney will do the things that Romney says he’s going to do and the things that Romney’s policy proposals say he’s going to do (as best as we can flush out from the vagueness of said proposals). Romney is running on a right-wing platform and these are the policies he’ll try to enact if elected.
Yes, in his robotic heart of hearts, Mitt Romney probably believes that a non-public-option universal health care plan modeled on the one in Massachusetts is a good idea. Be that as it may, he is running on repealing the Affordable Care Act, and if granted the opportunity, he will follow through. Appeasing the base doesn’t end after the primary is over. (For more, see Jamelle Bouie’s excellent take on this topic.)
The notion that Romney will govern as a moderate despite campaigning as a standard Republican is obviously misguided when you consider that presidential candidates may try to obscure their extremism once primary season is over—again, see Bush, George W.—but it would be a strange thing indeed to obscure one’s moderateness. Indeed, why would Romney do this? There is no political benefit to being viewed as anything but moderate in a general election, especially this one, where it seems that 90% of voters have already made up their mind; at this point, it’s just a few confused souls in Ohio waiting to see whether Romney or Obama can appear more non-ideological.
So to clarify: no one thinks Romney goes to bed at night dreaming gleefully of the day he can raise taxes on the middle class. And the Tax Policy Center doesn’t say what Romney wants to do; it only points out that the math in his plan does not add up. Something has to give. Given the longtime Republican obsession with lowering taxes for the rich and the recent Republican obsession with the deficit, that something is likely to be the middle class tax cut.