Mitt Romney got debate points Wednesday night on style, but not on substance.
While President Obama called his Republican opponent out on several of his more absurd abandonments of fact, and on his even more absurd attempts at repurposing himself—not as the right-wing extremist of the 2012 Republican primaries and convention but as the moderate Paul Tsongas voter of his 1994 race with Ted Kennedy—much of what Romney said went unchallenged.
That does not mean, however, that the most outlandish of Romney’s statements can or should be forgotten.
Indeed, it is in the post-debate moment that those statements will come to haunt Romney.
And none more so than his response to Obama’s mentioning of an old issue: closing loopholes that allow multinational corporations to benefit from moving jobs from communities in the United States to other countries.
Obama was taking about strategies for getting new revenues without raising taxes on struggling businesses: “(Part) of the way to do it is to not give tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas,” said the president. “Right now, you can actually take a deduction for moving a plant overseas. I think most Americans would say that doesn’t make sense. And all that raises revenue.”
That’s not actually a debatable point. The US tax code has, since the 1980s, provided multinational corporations with tax breaks for moving jobs overseas. Democrats and Republicans have talked for years about changing the code. The issue was debated in the Senate as recently as July, when Republicans blocked action on the “Bring Jobs Home Act,” which would have provided a 20 percent tax break for the costs of moving jobs back to the United States. That measure would, as well, have rescinded business expense deductions that CNN notes are now “available to companies that are associated with the cost of moving operations overseas."
For Romney, whose debate performance was not encumbered by facts, those details were of no consequence.
Capitalizing on the post-truth moment in which he found himself, Romney turned the entire discussion on its head and suggested that Obama was making things up.
“[You] said you get a deduction for taking a plant overseas,” the Republican said to the Democrat. “Look, I’ve been in business for twenty-five years. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant. But—but the idea that you get a break for shipping jobs overseas is simply not the case."
That’s just wrong. It is the case.
And it is unimaginable that anyone who made a fortune with a company that, in the words of The Washington Post, “invested in a series of firms that specialized in relocating jobs done by American workers to new facilities in low-wage countries like China and India” would be unaware of the tax breaks for firms that, um, relocate jobs. Just as it is unimaginable that anyone who has been involved in American politics over the past two decades could be unaware of an issue that the US Senate has debated, that party platforms have discussed and that voters in swing states such as Ohio and Wisconsin take very seriously.
Even more remarkable than Romney’s feigned ignorance is his response to the prospect of such a deduction: “I maybe need a new accountant.”
Seriously? A candidate for president of the United States, alerted to the fact that there might be tax breaks for moving jobs overseas, responds by suggesting that he wants to cash in on them?
It is stunning that Barack Obama did not grab that issue last night.
But Obama was grabbing it Thursday, making the issue a central theme of his post-debate speech to more than 30,000 backers on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison. Recalling Romney’ record as a Bain Capitalist, Obama said,
The Mitt Romney we all know invested in companies that were called pioneers of outsourcing jobs to other countries. But the guy on stage last night he said he’d never heard of tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. Never heard of them. And he said, if that’s true, he must need a new accountant. So now we know for sure that wasn’t the real Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney is doing just fine with the accountant he already has.
Then Obama nailed it: “The man on stage last night: he does not want to be held accountable for the real Mitt Romney.”
Better said in the debate, yes.
But well said, still, by a candidate who may not have won a debate, but who has been handed everything he needs to win an election.