From the “Dumb Things Political Consultants Say” File (Birther and Tax Returns Edition)

GOP stratgist Alex Castellanos issues a challenge.

GOP political consultant Alex Castellanos tweets:

How about a deal? Mitt can release 10 years of tax returns if Obama releases 10 years of birth certificates.

Now, this strikes me as dumb (to keep in line with my post title) for several reasons:

1.  There is no such thing as “ten years of birth certificates.”

2.  I continue to be amazed that the Romney campaign and his allies (Castellanos worked for Romney in 2008 and I think he is now as well, but I am not certain) keep digging a hole some themselves on this tax return issue.  The continued insistence that they will not follow precedence and release the records creates the impression that there is something embarrassing to hide.

3.  He is engaging in a bit of birtherism here.  It may be in jest, but by even bringing it up in the context of an actual debate (i.e., over the tax returns) he is legitimizing birtherism to a degree.

Ultimately, while I understand why Harry Reid deserves criticism for his speculative claims, I do understand the general criticism over Romney’s unwillingness to follow the normal pattern and release his tax returns.  However, it is fair to note that a decade’s worth is beyond the norm.

According to the National Journal:

Since the 1976 election, presidential candidates have released at least one year of tax returns. After winning that election, Jimmy Carter then set the precedent for all sitting presidents and vice presidents to release their returns each year. Since 1984, the standard for challengers to an incumbent president has been to disclose at least two years of returns, if not significantly more.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said he will meet this two-year standard. But 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain is the only other candidate to release just two years of returns in the last 34 years. Bob Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, set the tax-release record, disclosing 29 years of returns during his run for the White House.

See also CNN’s Political Ticker:  Presidential candidates have long history of releasing tax returns.

Here is a partial archive, by the way (although mostly these are just for the time the given individual was in office):    Presidential Tax Returns.

Of course, the bottom line is that withholding the tax returns is probably safer than releasing them.  There is bound to be something in them that could lead to an embarrassing, even if ultimately inconsequential, set of news stories.  As such, there is little incentive for him to release them.  Still, it is frustrating to see a candidate behave in an opaque manner, especially on a topic (taxes and the degree that the tax code is advantageous to the wealthy).

But back to the inspiration for the post:  could people who are allegedly “serious” stop given any credence whatsoever to the birther thesis ?  Please?

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. george says:

    Really dumb thing to say all right. And beyond the obvious point that the whole birther thing is nuts to begin with, Obama has already released his birth certificate.

    In terms of Romney, since both conservatives and liberals are asking him to release his taxes, and since everyone assumes he’s rich and pays very little taxes, the only thing I can see hurting him is if it turns out he’s actually going broke – the GOP would drop him like a hot potato if that was the case. Otherwise, since everyone assumes the worse anyway, it probably won’t have much effect.

  2. Fiona says:

    The birther meme, even when used in jest, is part of the overall strategy to paint Obama as somehow less than American. Republicans will stop using it only when it fails to appeal to a significant portion of their base.

    Of course, it’s hardly the first time Republicans have tried to portray their opponents as somehow insufficiently American. I remember them picking on John Kerry for being “too French.” But it’s been a particularly potent line of attack when used against Obama. A significant portion of Republicans still think he’s a Muslim. One would think elites like Castellano would know better and leave the birthed nonsense to clowns like Trump, but apparently not.

  3. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Fiona: No one is going to leave anything alone this election. By the time it’s all over we’ll all feel a need to take a long, hot shower.

  4. Septimius says:

    1. There is no such thing as “ten years of birth certificates.”

    The fact that you took the time to write that sentence is even dumber than what Castellanos wrote.

  5. anjin-san says:

    Birtherism is part of the Romney campaign. Were it not, Mitt would have told Trump to jump in the lake instead of embracing him.

    the only thing I can see hurting him is if it turns out he’s actually going broke

    Hmmm. Guess you have your eyes closed.

  6. bk says:

    Actually, the totally serious demands of many Republican operatives to have Obama release college transcripts are even dumber.

  7. george says:

    @anjin-san:

    Hmmm. Guess you have your eyes closed.

    To what? I didn’t say I thought he was going broke, just that everyone on both sides assumes he’s rich and pays little in taxes, so there’s not going to much new in his release unless he was going broke. Conservatives want him to show his returns, and then defend the right to be rich and pay no taxes (its practically the GOP creed). Liberals want him to show his returns to point out how unfair it is. No one doubts he pays little in taxes.

  8. al-Ameda says:

    Of course, the bottom line is that withholding the tax returns is probably safer than releasing them. There is bound to be something in them that could lead to an embarrassing, even if ultimately inconsequential, set of news stories.

    How would it be inconsequential if it turned out that in a year, or in some years, Romney paid zero or very little in taxes? That seems to me to go to the heart of the difference between the GOP and Democrats. Hardly inconsequential.

    Bottomline: Romney opened the door when he provided the McCain campaign with many years of tax returns, and now he doesn’t want to talk about it. He claims on the one hand that he is not going to apologize for being successful, and then on the other hand says, trust me I pay my fair share of taxes.

    Plus, Ryan’s Plan would significantly lower taxes for plutocrats like Romney.

  9. @al-Ameda:

    How would it be inconsequential if it turned out that in a year, or in some years, Romney paid zero or very little in taxes? That seems to me to go to the heart of the difference between the GOP and Democrats. Hardly inconsequential.

    I mean consequential to the campaign and election.

    Do I think it matters that Romney probably pays a relatively low effective tax rate relative to his income? Yes, I do. However, we don’t need Romney’s tax returns to know that this can (and does) happen. In other words: we don’t need Romney’s returns, specifically, to have a debate about the tax code.

  10. al-Ameda says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I mean consequential to the campaign and election.

    Do I think it matters that Romney probably pays a relatively low effective tax rate relative to his income? Yes, I do. However, we don’t need Romney’s tax returns to know that this can (and does) happen. In other words: we don’t need Romney’s returns, specifically, to have a debate about the tax code.

    I mean to the campaign and election also. If it turns out that Romney paid 13% it’s not going to matter much, however if he paid close to zero a few times I think that matters a lot, and will take us to the tax code. the Ryan/Romney Plan would cut the top tax bracket rate from 34% to 25% and widen deficits – it’s all related.

  11. @al-Ameda: I agree: if he actually did pay near zero, then that would likely be a problem for him, but I honestly do wonder how much of an electoral difference it would ultimately make. I am currently of the opinion that he is unlikely to win anyway, so I guess I am less inclined to think that new information will have serious consequences for his campaign. I suppose I am also assuming that the worst case scenario (paying zero taxes) is actually not the problem, just because partisan wishes are rather than completely fulfilled. However, I could be wrong about that.

    And again: I think that the tax code is worth a very serious debate. I guess I have lost faith in the notion that even something like Romney paying 0% would spark such a debate. Again, I could be wrong about that.

  12. Jeremy R says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I mean consequential to the campaign and election.

    I disagree. I think they’d be hugely consequential, fairly or unfairly, which is why they’re being withheld. Romney’s single year of disclosure provided numerous breadcrumbs for financial journalists to follow to mysterious offshore vehicles that hadn’t been previously disclosed, that imply Romney may be significantly wealthier than had been understood, and that paint an extremely murky overall picture of his finances.

    Even if his tax rate stayed above 10% throughout, my feeling, and I’m assuming the Romney camp’s as well, is that 10 years of disclosure, each hundreds of pages, would completely sink him as the press & his opponents spend months working their way through his tangled web of shelters, investments, offshore shell companies, etc.

  13. @Jeremy R: I take the point. But having said that: I think is going to lose the election and therefore the actual “consequence” of the release would not be all that great, ultimately. Might it make him lose a bit more? Maybe. Would that be “consequential” to his campaign, perhaps not.

  14. Fiona says:

    @Mr. Prosper:

    No one is going to leave anything alone this election. By the time it’s all over we’ll all feel a need to take a long, hot shower.

    So very true. I’m already feeling dirty.

  15. sam says:

    Speaking of dumb things to say or write, consider this from Rich “Starbursts” Lowry:

    On Medicare, the Romney campaign is borrowing the strategic logic of a long-ago military legend.

    Taking command of the French 9th army in 1914 as it retreated before the Germans, Marshal Ferdinand Foch uttered his immortals words: “Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I attack.”

    Is there any other way to read that but as the admission, “Mes amis, my campaign is heading into le crappeur, therefore…”

  16. C. Clavin says:

    The key here is precedence. Why does Romney feel the accepted rules (dating to his own father fer chrisakes) don’t apply to him?

  17. Mr. Replica says:

    @C. Clavin:

    The key here is precedence. Why does Romney feel the accepted rules (dating to his own father fer chrisakes) don’t apply to him?

    Because Mitt Romney is the modern day Veruca Salt.
    He wants the world, the whole world, and he wants it now.
    The rules do not apply to him and just because of who he is, rather than what he has done (which by his own words should not be questioned or scrutinized) he should just be given what ever his heart desires.

    Too bad for little ol’ Veruca, in the end she was nothing but a bad egg.

  18. jan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “In other words: we don’t need Romney’s returns, specifically, to have a debate about the tax code. “

    You’re right. Romney is a wealthy man living off of his investment income — income which is taxed under the capital gains law. The way to change taxes is via the tax code, not looking at years and years of someone else’s taxes. That is simply a political ruse, that will, nonetheless, be repeated, because it serves the suspicions of the dem base. These are similar self-serving suspicions, to the repubican base, that are fed by the birth certificate issue — albeit, Obama has aided and abetted these elongated inquiries by having a jacket cover assert he was born in Kenya.

  19. C. Clavin says:

    Of course we know from her previous comments that Jan believes the sick and the poor and the elderly…the so-called 47%…should pay more taxes…and she has supported the Ryan Budget so she clearly belueves Romney should pay zero taxes.
    So that’s her end of the tax discussion.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    These are similar self-serving suspicions, to the repubican base, that are fed by the birth certificate issue — albeit, Obama has aided and abetted these elongated inquiries by having a jacket cover assert he was born in Kenya.

    Except, of course, that the jacket cover wasn’t from his book nor did he “have” it there…really, Jan, couldn’t you just try a little harder in the future…

  21. David M says:

    People the President nominates to his Cabinet have to provide three years of tax returns, it’s inconceivable that we shouldn’t require at least the same for the President.

    Keep in mind Romney has only released his return 2010 so far, and it’s arguably incomplete. He’s said he will release two years, but 2011 isn’t done yet.

  22. bk says:

    @jan:

    Obama has aided and abetted these elongated inquiries by having a jacket cover assert he was born in Kenya.

    That’s pretty much like saying that Obama has aided and abetted these elongated inquiries by having ignorant bloggers – like you – assert he was born in Kenya.

  23. bk says:

    What’s even dumber is what Romney himself said today (and I will paraphrase, but I think that I am close) – I never paid less than 13% in taxes, but when you add up my charitable contributions (sic), it was closer to 20%.

    So all of a sudden charitable contributions (in his case, presumably gifts to his church) are the same as taxes???

  24. Jeremy R says:

    @bk:

    So all of a sudden charitable contributions (in his case, presumably gifts to his church) are the same as taxes???

    Yup, by that goofy standard, in the same year Romney is summing in his tithing to get 20%, President Obama would have “paid” nearly 100% if his income, as he donated his 1.4 million in nobel winnings plus an additional 245K to charity.

  25. bk says:

    Assuming that his “charitable contributions” consisted solely of his church gifts, wouldn’t that mean (by his analysis) that he only gave 7% to the church? is 7% the new 10%?

  26. grumpy realist says:

    @jan: You really don’t check your facts, do you? That jacket shibboleth was debunked 5 nanoseconds after the birfers came out with it. But I guess facts don’t matter, as long as you can say something bad about the POTUS.

    What was that again about bearing false witness? It was in some book somewhere I read once….I think it was called the Bible…

  27. al-Ameda says:

    @jan:

    Obama has aided and abetted these elongated inquiries by having a jacket cover assert he was born in Kenya.

    Translation: “Barack Obama is really David Rudisha.”