TOPICS > Politics

Shields and Brooks on Romney’s Tax Returns and ’47 Percent’ Remarks

September 21, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
NewsHour political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the week's top political news with Judy Woodruff, including the release of Mitt Romney's 2011 tax returns, Romney's remarks on the '47 percent,' and President Obama's handling of the unrest and deadly protests over the American anti-Islam video.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks — that’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, the Romney tax release — tax return information, what do we learn from that?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, I thought it was either Onion, the satirical magazine, or Stephen Colbert.

I have no idea why the Romney campaign would revisit and revive the tax issue, without resolving it. I mean, all they did was put out a 20-year summary.

And so what you have done is you have — what had been somewhat quiescent, had been an issue that bothered — pollsters said it bothered some people that he hadn’t revealed them, the fact that he had required everybody who was considered for vice president to provide 10 years of personal tax returns even to get an interview for that job, and he hadn’t himself.

And now they kind of bring out this summary today that doesn’t answer questions. And so you have raised the issue again, Judy. You haven’t resolved it. You revived it. Why? I mean, what — to what end?

JUDY WOODRUFF: But hadn’t they promised to put out the 2011…

MARK SHIELDS: They had promised to put out 2011, as I understood it, by Oct. 15. And, you know, that was — you know, that was fine.

And — but why the rest of this sort of summary that — without specifics?

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: A brilliant move to distract people from the 47 percent. So it’s like…

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: OK.

DAVID BROOKS: So, it’s like, you have diabetes to distract from your cancer.

So, no, I think it was mostly the promise. They did this. The accountants did their work. They came up with results. They might as well get it out on a Friday afternoon. So, I think that was fine.

I never thought the — the issue that cut was the, he’s hiding something. And that is the leitmotif of the Romney campaign: He is hiding something, whether it is his plans, which he is not really making a case for, or his personality, which is hiding behind a faux persona. And so that cut.

I don’t think the actual details of did he pay this or that tax — to me, the mystery — the essential mystery of Romney was sort of embedded in them, which is the guy gives $4 million to charity. He is a genuinely good person around the people he knows.

Yet, they don’t talk about that. You — I saw Glenn Beck’s show — I’m not a big fan of Glenn Beck, but I saw a Glenn Beck show this week where he’s interviewing people after — person after person, alcoholics, people Romney has personally ministered to, all this — incredibly uplifting stories.

We saw a hint of it at the conventions. And yet it either doesn’t come — he’s not talking about that in public, and it doesn’t translate into a compassionate conservatism, which it could, which is the logical outgrowth of his personal life.

MARK SHIELDS: The personal ethic — I think David put his finger on it.

The personal ethic, which is commendable, and the record is replete with instances of his personal…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we heard it at the convention.

MARK SHIELDS: We heard it at the convention, but even beyond that, you hear it from people.

But does it translate into public policy, that where he isn’t there personally, where his — even his considerable fortune can’t make a difference, where there is a public policy that provides the same kind of encouragement, support? And that is what is missing. The compassionate conservatism is absent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But I hear you both saying you don’t think this puts an end the clamor for the rest of the tax returns, or does it?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it does. I don’t think he’s going release anything more. And I think, to the extent the issue has hurt him, it is done with, and I don’t think it is going to be a big issue for him now.

MARK SHIELDS: If there is a tape of him saying something about it, you know, at another fund-raiser, it will raise the issue again.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what about the tape, the 47 percent comment, Mark? How damaging is that?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s damaging, Judy, because it plays into the stereotype that — of Mitt Romney that has emerged in this campaign, and that is of an out-of-touch man who doesn’t connect with ordinary people.

Andy Kohut in the most Pew Research poll asked, who connects better with ordinary people, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? Sixty-six to 23, I mean, that means that people — half the people who are supporting him don’t believe he connects. Think about that.

And it just — beyond that, it shows a contempt and a disdain for people, I mean, ordinary people. Jack Kemp to me was sort of the embodiment of what I call — he called bleeding-heart conservatism, somebody who cared.

He was a conservative who cared about working people, cared about ordinary people, and just revered and honored people who got up every day, packed a lunch, punched a clock, raised a family, worked hard.

They didn’t have to be entrepreneurs. They didn’t have to be impresarios. They didn’t have to be starting corporations. I mean, they were valued. And, in Mitt Romney’s America, as outlined in that Boca Raton statement, they really aren’t — they aren’t valued people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think what he said has resonance, that it will go on and be — continue to be an issue, or…

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

If you look strictly at the polls, it’s hard to see so far, but it’s still early days, the effects, because if you look at, say, the Gallup poll, it’s tied. If you look at the average of all the recent polls, Obama probably has a five-point lead, three- to five-point lead.

And it’s tough to see something you can distinctly tie to that comment. Nonetheless, it is certainly true already that this act, this comment has energized Democrats, enthusiasm way up, this guy has got to be beaten.

And it’s completely demoralized Republicans, both on confidence grounds for a lot of people, for all Republicans, and on moral offensiveness grounds for a lot of Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re hearing these calls to change the campaign. I guess there’s a lot of people are quoting Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal today, saying they need an intervention, a new CEO.

MARK SHIELDS: A losing campaign is like a bad marriage.

I mean, it’s — there is a lot of blame and a lot of recriminations. And I don’t care what it is, Democrat or Republican. What this shows to me more than anything else is that Mitt Romney was always a concept, rather than a cause.

In other words, he made sense. He was a business success in a bad economy. He was a turnaround artist. That is how you were going to sell him.

He had a beautiful family, a lovely family. He’s free of any scandal. He’s well-educated. He’s a handsome man. He had been governor of a blue state. OK?

But he wasn’t a cause. When Ronald Reagan got in trouble in 1980 — and he did in that campaign with stumbles — there were people there who had been with him in 1964 in Barry Goldwater’s fight, that had been with him in 1968 when he challenged Richard Nixon as the conservative alternative, 1976, when he took on President Ford.

In other words, there were 20 years of shared foxholes among — there aren’t with Mitt Romney.

So, when Mitt Romney gets in trouble, there isn’t that emotional cadre of people who say, I have been there in the tough ones, and he was always good.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

I agree with that, though I would say the trouble is different. And let me put it this way. Several decades ago, I had a chance to have dinner with Tom Clancy, the thriller writer. And he sat down. He had just toured a battleship and he had seen a new weapon system. And was bubbling over with excitement about this new weapon system he thought was very interesting.

And he was just talking about it with great passion. And I remember thinking, you can’t fake it. If you don’t feel that, you can’t write Tom Clancy novels.

And with Mitt Romney, he’s faking it. I think he’s a non-ideological guy running in an ideological age who is pretending to be way more ideological than he really is. And so he talks like he has this cartoon image of how I’m supposed to be talking.

And, as a result, it is stupid a lot — half the time — not half the time, some of the time. It’s an impersonation. And, so, if I were — knowing it’s too late to change who he is running as, but just be the more boring manager you are. He is a competent manager. We thought he was.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that’s what I wanted to ask. What does he need to do now? What does his campaign need to do?

MARK SHIELDS: If I were he, and he asked — or he asked my advice, I would say, look, you got to stand for something. You want to be able to tell your grandchildren that, in 2012, I ran for president and I stood for something larger.

I don’t care if it is embracing Simpson-Bowles and saying, this is what — and I am going to tell you, it isn’t going to be easy, America, but we’re all in this together. I don’t care if it’s selling yourself as, I’m the turnaround artist and this is how I am going to do it.

But he has to get specific. He has got to lay it out. He can’t wait for Barack Obama to stumble and split an infinitive in the first debate, and hope that that is somehow the magic in the bottle.

I mean, I just think he has to figure out who inside of me I am and what I want to be able to tell my grandchildren yet unborn I stood for in 2012.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

And I would say he’s going to say, hey, you don’t have to like me. I’m not going to be as personable as Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, but I will do — I will reform our institutions.

We have a couple institutions that don’t work, and I will re-change these organizations, the tax code, the educational system, the political conversation in Washington, the entitlement system. Those four things, I will fix them.

And to change the political system and the tax code, maybe I’m going to have to raise revenues to cut a deal. I am going to do that.

And so that would be the sort of desperate thing I would have to do. I would say this is a time for desperation, because if you look at the state polls in Ohio and Florida, he’s trailing significantly in these swing states.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying that is affecting other races?

DAVID BROOKS: You see the Senate has collapsed for Republicans in the last couple weeks. Even the House is beginning to falter.

MARK SHIELDS: When somebody gets in trouble — and victory has a fragrance all its own, and so does defeat. And people start to move away from you.

They clamor. If you are leading, Judy, and you’re a presidential candidate, they want to be seen in every picture. They’re pushing to get on the platform. They’re calling in all the chits.

All of a sudden, when are you in trouble, they remember that their nephew is graduating from driving school that day and they can’t be with you.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, just quickly, from the other side of the ledger, getting back to our lead story tonight, this turmoil in the Middle East, a lot of criticism in the last few days, especially from the right, but from the center as well, the president saying he hasn’t led sufficiently, that the U.S. looks weak, and it’s a result of the president’s lack of leadership.

Is that an argument that has legs?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, no one likes to see things just spinning out of our control. And that’s the way it looks.

Now, the president — not only does it look weak. It looks like we don’t quite have a policy. We’re just sort of muddling our way through.

Now, I think some of it is undeserved, because there is frankly no — what is happening in the Middle East in all these embassies is a society having a disagreement with itself, and we’re the victims, as they fight amongst themselves over what sort of countries they want to be.

And we can’t influence that to some — to the degree we would like. And so, to some degree, we have no influence, and no president could possibly have an influence.

But there certainly has been a lack of clarity in preparation of moving to a new Middle East and being aggressive in promoting democracy and the right causes.

MARK SHIELDS: There is an American interest, obviously, in each of these countries and the entire region. There is not an American solution for everyone or for anyone.

And I do think the president made a political mistake and a personal mistake by going to the fundraiser in Las Vegas at — when the attack was made on our Libyan consulate and then the murder of the ambassador.

But I do think this is an advantage the president has had. Mitt Romney has never reached the level of credibility, the threshold test on commander in chief.

And the question is, if it spins out of control, Judy, and there is a sense of chaos, then the president’s own standing does fall.

Beyond the interests of the United States or the well-being of the world, politically, the political fallout is that it hurts Barack Obama. And the question is, has Mitt Romney damaged himself so much that he wouldn’t even be able to take advantage of it?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s unfair to ask you such a big question with only a little bit of time, but…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, it is, but it’s typical of you.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: After all the nice things I said about you.

DAVID BROOKS: I know. I know.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s typical.

DAVID BROOKS: Always critical.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Brooks, Mark Shields, we will have — I guess we will have you back.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Mark and David keep up the talk on The Doubleheader. That’s on our website coming up after this program.