Mitt Romney's Orgy of Creative Self-Destruction

God preserve you if you have any idea what's happening inside Mitt Romney's brain. After a week that was already the worst of his campaign, it's as if the man said, "Oh, yeah? Watch this," and pulled back the hyperdumb levers of his magical farting machine, the Mittlennium Fuckup.

The Romney campaign not only appears determined to go nowhere but to do it as quickly as possible. It is the fastest hunk of junk in the political galaxy. All Romney had to do was withhold information, as was his wont for almost everything else during the campaign, and he'd have been fine. His plan on Iran or Afghanistan? Just you wait until after the election. How he'd close the over $10 trillion hole in his budget by via ending tax loopholes? Just you wait. Repeal and replace Obamacare? With what??? Just you wait.

But his tax returns—the things most non-wonks had forgotten about—well, we needed a steaming heap of those to change the narrative of his steaming heap of a week. On Friday, we got them.

Unless he faced a dubious leak from Anonymous or some political reincarnation of Nixon's plumbers, Romney could have foreseen no guaranteed upside to this release. The time to cough up the tax returns passed after the GOP debates and real primary contest ended.

None of his fellow candidates had the organization or message discipline to capitalize on what Romney disclosed yesterday. Sure, some of the clown collection might have said something, but it would have been lost in a matter of weeks in the morass of Ron Paul's gold nattering, Rick Santorum's recoiling in horror at happy vaginas, Herman Cain's bizarre devotion to numerology and Newt Gingrich taking tremendous credit for the enormous inventions of currency, the automobile and World War II. More to the point, there would have been little upside for them to pursue the issue. Despite Gingrich's forays into using terms like "vulture capitalism," it's hard to imagine Romney's GOP opponents jumping on the idea that he wasn't taxed enough.

Instead, Mitt spent roughly half a year obstructing any forays into his personal finances. He weathered the historical blowback of rejecting a tradition begun in 1968 by his own father, George Romney—an open-book disclosure of 12 years of tax returns, just because. So, after six months of obduracy, during which the tax return discussion flared up and eventually burned out, here comes the big, nonsensical reveal. It's as if, after months of tense cease-fire following a relationship-defining fight, you suddenly turned to your significant other and said, "Hey, remember that thing I did that pissed you off? Would you like more ammo?"

The only explanation that seems to make sense is that Romney might have felt that an unbidden burst of honesty could wipe out the nasty class warfare on display in the secret video of his May speech to donors. See, America? I have nothing to hide. Moreover, he might have believed that the returns offered a Trojan horse to Democrats.

As Taylor Berman wrote yesterday, Romney and his family profited from Chinese investments, but he divested himself of them when his campaign for president became an official thing. That could have been written off with a statement like, "When I was a private citizen, I tried to make money for my family with smart investment decisions. When I decided to pursue the highest office in the land, I made a 100% commitment to investing in America for Americans." What's more, the outsourcing debate hurts Democrats as well as Republicans, and he might have wished to even the stakes on that topic.

The low tax rate issue complicates things further. As John Cook noted yesterday, Romney and his accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers jiggered what he claimed in charitable donations to push his tax obligation north of 13% of his income, to remain consistent with what he'd said he'd paid earlier in the campaign. This is, without a doubt, cynical behavior. But, as much as you might lament that the man privileges remitting charity money to partisan/sectarian/specialized groups over the general social-welfare interests of government, you're kind of a jerk if you get upset at someone spending millions on charity and then not taking a bonus for doing so.

Perhaps Romney banked on baiting Democrats into attacking his carried-interest and capital-gains tax rates. Republican strategy, for years now, has correctly assumed that "HE OUGHTA PAY MORE TAXES!" sells poorly amongst the citizenry. Some Democrats certainly went that route, but it's clear that the party has no message yet. Yesterday, the DNC strategy was a lot like upending a serving table at a cafeteria and seeing what stuck to the walls. All politics is reconstituted gravy and appealing to the people who came for the Early Bird.

So maybe Mitt had all those things in mind—some judo move leveraging fevered "TAX 'EM ALL!" Democrats into a political ditch and turning outsourcing into an open debate. On the other hand, this disclosure ran up against his previous statement, that he doesn't pay more taxes "than are legally due and frankly if [he] had paid more than are legally due [he doesn't] think [he'd] be qualified to become president." Disqualifying yourself from being president according to your own standards is generally a "bad move," although, to be fair, he does this a lot.

Maybe he thought he might get leverage with the tax and outsourcing things—and his charity and generosity—but those are pretty big ifs. Any one of those things, taken in isolation, might work. Mostly, we're left with more questions than answers. As for the answers we do have, put them all together, and the tableaux is kind of repulsive. This disclosure shows a guy who's spent months railing at China but spent two years investing in it, who banked $13.7 million while being (according to his terms) "unemployed," and who might have been able to reduce his tax rate to 10.2% if he didn't opt to spend more money. Imagine the luxury of finding that last choice only to your advantage.

The amazing thing is, he can top this. If Mitt Romney's proved nothing else, it's that he can snatch another wholly unimaginable blunder from the jaws of the unnecessary. Just you wait.

[Image via AP]