Every Presidential campaign has a defining moment. For Ronald Reagan it was when he grabbed the microphone in Nashua and shouted: “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green.” For John McCain it was during a speech, when despite the historic collapse of the country’s economy he said: “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” For Michael Dukakis it was when he participated in a campaign ad featuring him riding around in a tank. History shows that each of these moments defined the candidate and led to the eventual outcome of the campaign. We may have just witnessed Mitt Romney’s defining moment.
Mitt Romney was asked at what rate he paid his taxes. He explained that because most of his income came from previous investments, his tax rate was around 15%. But then he dismissively said: “I get speakers fees from time to time; but not very much.”
Romney’s revelation that he pays his taxes at the capital gains rate of 15% should not come as a surprise. He has spent the last four or five years running for President; and the vast majority of his income is assumed to come from his past investments. If that is the case, then paying his taxes at the 15% capital gains rate is well within the law. Naturally, his political opponents will make out of this what they will; but the law is the law.
The real defining moment was his dismissive reference toward the money he made from speaking engagements. Reports say that last year Romney received $360,000 in speaking fees; an average of $41,000 per speech. $360,000 may not be very much to a man who is worth a quarter of a billion dollars; but it is a lifetime of earnings to most Americans. And in South Carolina, where unemployment is well over 10%; Romney made on average $8,000 more for one speech than the average South Carolina worker makes in one year.
Romney has bungled this tax issue from the start. His refusal to release his returns and his awkward response when pressed on the issue during the last debate, cause one to wonder what he has to hide. Add to this his disingenuous efforts to portray himself as just an ordinary guy and you get an image problem that is going to be hard for him to shake.
Romney is now the face of the “1%ers”. He is the poster child for all the disparity between the “haves” and the “have nots” in our society. His off the cuff comment has allowed the public a rare peek behind the curtain. What they saw was a man disconnected from the plight of the average American.
Will this be the defining moment of the Romney campaign? Will it define him as a rich guy out of touch with the rest of the country? You can bet the Obama campaign will do their best to make that point.