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Mitt's Money Problem | The Nation

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Ari Berman

Ari Berman

 On American politics and policy.

Mitt's Money Problem

“Romney, sinking in polls, says ‘banks aren’t bad people.’ ” That headline from the LA Times encapsulates, in a nutshell, why Mitt Romney is in trouble, both in the Republican primary against Newt Gingrich and in a possible general election campaign against President Obama.

In two weeks, Romney’s unfavorability rating among independent voters—an important constituency of his—has increased by seventeen points, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. Fifty-one percent of independent voters now view him unfavorably, while only 23 percent have a favorable opinion. Romney’s experienced an even larger plunge among white voters making less than $50,000, notes Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent, dropping twenty points in less than a month. “The spike in negative views of Romney among blue collar whites suggests the possibility that the assault on his wealth, privilege, low tax rates and generally out of touch persona could be resonating with them, and is possibly beginning to define Romney among them,” Sargent writes.

The key problem for Romney is that at a time when Americans are increasingly concerned about income inequality and the political voicelessness of the 99 percent, Romney is an unabashed proponent of Wall Street and the 1 percent. The fact that he paid only 13.9 percent in taxes on $21.6 million in income in 2010, that he had investments in offshore tax havens, that he profited at Bain Capital from bankrupt companies and shuttered steel mills, and that he believes corporations are people all reinforce this central weakness of his candidacy.

Romney’s fortune itself is not so much the problem as much as the fact that he wants to preserve the broken status quo for the wealthiest in our society, keeping the tax rate on capital gains and dividends at 15 percent (Gingrich, it’s worth noting, would make it zero), while accusing those who want to restore a basic sense of fairness to the US economy of practicing the “bitter politics of envy.”

The Washington Post recently asked voters what was a bigger problem for the country: “unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy or over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity?” Fifty-five percent answered “unfairness,” while only 35 percent said “over-regulation.” Yesterday a New York Times poll found that 59 percent of the public believes that upper-income Americans are paying “less than fair share” of taxes, while just 35 percent thought they were paying too little or the right amount. This is a capsule version of the Obama-Romney debate, and a good preview of Romney’s vulnerability should he make it to the general election.

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