So that wasn’t exactly a great week for Mitt Romney, was it?
The firestorm began with a Boston Globe story that publicized documents listing Romney as the sole owner of Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded, until 2001 — two years after he said he left the company to rescue the foundering Salt Lake Winter Olympics.
In that two year period, Bain closed factories, ran companies into bankruptcy and shipped American jobs to China and Mexico — not exactly the stuff presidential candidates want on their resume.
Romney has said his name remained merely as a formality while the transfer of Bain to his successors took place. And there exists no smoking gun as yet that shows Romney had a behind-the-scenes hand in any of those politically disastrous decisions.
But Team Obama has landed several stinging blows, portraying Romney as a secretive ultra-rich businessman hiding things from the American people.
And for his part, Romney continues to hand them a gift. His steadfast refusal to release personal financial documents prior to 2010, when he began his second presidential bid, plays perfectly into the image of Romney the Democrats are painting. He hasn’t even released his 2011 tax returns in full, deciding instead to put out an incomplete estimate of his 2011 filings with the IRS.
Romney has said he will not release any more tax documents prior to the November election, but another week of pummeling by the Obama campaign and the press may force him to reconsider.
Even fellow Republicans are jumping ship over his refusal to release more personal financial data.
Alabama Republican Gov. Robert Bentley told reporters, “If you have things to hide, then maybe you’re doing things wrong. I think you ought to be willing to release everything to the American people.”
When the Republican nominee is taking heat from the governor of Alabama — the redest of red states — it can’t be good news.
There’s probably a reason Romney hasn’t yet backed down on the tax return issue: The 2010 filings reveal several offshore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, two infamous havens for wealthy people to stash unneeded millions to avoid paying a higher tax rate. Further disclosures might prove embarrassing — or worse, make for a fatal blow to his candidacy.
This image of Romney as a schiesty rich dude comes at a particularly difficult time in the campaign. Only now are independent general election voters tuning in to the race. If this is their first impression of Romney as the Republican alternative, it is hardly a flattering portrait.
That’s probably why Team Obama has spent a staggering $100 million on commercials in swing states driving home the impression of Romney as a rich guy dodging questions about the origins of his fortune.
In presidential elections that pit an incumbent against a challenger, the typical logic holds that voters aren’t nearly as interested in the new guy. It’s a referendum on the sitting president. Only after voters have concluded that their president might be worth replacing does the attention shift to the challenger.
Obama can’t deny the fact that a significant portion of the electorate — more than half, probably — is at least willing to consider replacing him.
But that doesn’t lead to a de facto Romney victory. Voters still have a second choice to make: Is the new guy better than the old guy? In that regard, Romney must seal the deal and convince voters his vision for the country is better than Obama’s.
The entire rationale for Romney’s pitch to these voters is that he’s a successful businessman with the knowledge and skill necessary to help fix the economy. If faith in Romney’s business credentials erodes, his only path to victory lies in there being 50.1 percent of Americans willing to check the box “anything but this.”
That’s hardly a compelling narrative — and an even worse bet.
At their heart, most Americans — at least the ones who aren’t hyperpartisan — want to like their president. In fact, polls consistently show a greater number of Americans hold Obama in higher personal regard than their opinion of his job performance.
It would seem, then, highly unlikely that a majority of Americans, particularly independent voters more concerned with the person running than his party, would take the keys away from a likable sitting president and hand them to an aloof rich guy whose biography includes shady business deals and Cayman Island bank accounts.
Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.