The first rule of being a Romney surrogate: Don’t make his tax problem worse!
In Monday night’s debate, Mitt Romney seemed surprised by a direct question from the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib: Will you publicly release your tax returns? That Romney wasn’t ready with the sort of glib, pre-rehearsed non-answer he has expertly delivered to sensitive questions throughout the GOP debate season was itself surprising. Democrats have been making no secret of their desire to press the tax issue and one of Romney’s rivals, Rick Perry, had even raised it earlier in the evening (with Romney artfully ducking it).
In response to Seib, Romney stumbled around and kind of, sort of committed to maybe thinking about releasing his tax records in April, claiming there’s a tradition of presidential candidates doing so around Tax Day. Clearly, this is not something he wants to do or wants to be talking about at all. Which makes the comments of his top campaign surrogate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, on Wednesday’s “Morning Joe” decidedly unhelpful:
“The way that I’ve conducted myself in my public life all along is I’ve released all of my tax returns. And I did it during the campaign — went back a number of years and released my tax returns. And I released them every year after I filed them — right after I filed them — to the public in New Jersey so they can see everything. And I think that’s the right way to go and that’s what I would tell Governor Romney to do. Now, he says he’s going to release them in April. I hope he does. The fact of the matter is, that’s what I would advise him to do.”
For good measure, Christie made the same basic statement on “Today” as well:
“I would say to Governor Romney is that if you have tax returns to put out, you know, you should put them out sooner rather than later because it’s always better in my view to have complete disclosure, especially when you’re the front-runner.”
Christie has accomplished two things here. The first is that he’s made Romney’s tax problem much worse. Romney’s slipperiness on Monday night generated new interest in the story, leading reporters to follow up on the campaign trail on Tuesday, with Romney admitting in South Carolina that his effective tax rate is “probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything” — meaning that Romney, because much of his income is from investments, likely pays a much lower rate than people with a fraction of his earnings. The news on Tuesday that Romney’s father, George Romney, went out of his way to release 12 years of his own tax records when he ran for president in 1968 drew more attention to the story, and now that Romney’s chief surrogate is publicly telling the candidate to put his returns out, the media has yet another reason to pester Romney. Romney’s goal, apparently, is to avoid releasing anything until after he’s sewn up the Republican nomination (if he can’t avoid releasing them altogether, that is). But Christie’s words will make it harder for Romney to justify waiting until April.
The other thing Christie accomplished Wednesday morning was to demonstrate why he would be such a bad fit as Romney’s vice-presidential candidate. It’s not just that he strayed from the script and undercut his own candidate, though that’s part of it. It’s also that he doesn’t need the V.P. slot like another ambitious politician might. After all, he was booked on two premier national morning shows on Wednesday because of who he is — the colorful, unpredictable governor of New Jersey. His association with Romney was secondary. In other words, Christie has already built his own national brand, and it will endure even if he’s not Romney’s running mate. In fact, serving as Romney’s No. 2 would weaken his brand, because of the pressure to conform to campaign messaging and to rein himself in.
“I don’t think I’m the type of personality who’s going to be asked to be vice president by anybody,” Christie said at the start of his “Morning Joe” appearance. He more than backed those words up.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki.
More Related Stories
- Top White House aides knew about IRS probe but didn't tell Obama
- Gohmert: IRS would've "probably shot the Boston Tea Party participants"
- Oregon senator proposes appeal to Monsanto Protection Act
- Supreme Court to rule on prayer at government meetings
- Beltway scandal machine breaks, knows nothing about America
- Top GOP official: "Sometimes our party does not value" women "as much"
- Colorado Dems fight back against GOP's Voter ID measures
- Watchdogs: ABC "in danger of losing a lot of credibility" on Benghazi saga
- Father of gay high school student arrested for dating classmate speaks out
- IRS meltdown was long overdue
- Can a liberal wonk save the Senate?
- Arkansas treasurer charged with extortion
- Corporate greed is poisoning America -- literally
- The new geography of poverty
- Barack Obama: Incidental black man?
- Obama to all-male university graduates: Be the best husband to "your boyfriend or partner"
- Big Soda SNAP-ing up billions off government programs
- The truth in Kanye's anti-prison rap
- Tea Party Patriots push nationwide anti-IRS rallies
- GOP attorney general candidate tried to force women to report miscarriages to police
- Marijuana opponents' new plan: Kill First Amendment
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
War Room is our political news and commentary blog, with coverage and commentary throughout the day.