The past couple of weeks have been very good for Mitt Romney's 17 grandchildren. Last Wednesday, Romney told a New Hampshire audience he wanted to leave all of his estimated $250 million estate to his grandkids. Then on Monday, a new CBS poll showed their grandfather beating President Obama in a head-to-head matchup.
And that's very good news indeed for the Romney clan. After all, if their patriarch gets his way as President, the estate tax will be eliminated. That means a potential $80 million windfall for the next generation of Romneys, courtesy of all other American taxpayers who will have to make up the shortfall. And as it turns out, that payday from the U.S. Treasury will more than offset the $45 million of his own money Mitt burned through during his first run for President.
It was during that campaign four years ago that Mitt Romney first tried to explain how he cared about America's grandchildren by speaking about his own. As Time reported on January 24, 2008, according to Mitt's beatitude the young Romney chic shall inherit his worth:
Romney's stump speech includes a jokey story about the joys of becoming a grandfather, in which he recounts how, after he became a grandfather he went to his lawyer and told him he'd like to change his will. Initially, he said, he was going to leave everything to his sons. He tells the lawyer he'd like to include his grandchildren now. "And what percentage do you want to leave to your grandchildren?" asks the lawyer. "You don't understand," Romney says, "I want to leave it all to my grandchildren. My boys can make their own money."
But Mitt didn't literally mean "all" of his estimated $250 million worth. As it turned out, $45 million of it went to a higher calling. That calling was not his church, but his ambition to become President of the United States.
As the Boston Globe reported on July 16, 2008, Romney "will not seek donations to repay $45 million in personal loans he made to his failed presidential bid -- the biggest ever made by a candidate in a primary campaign." The Globe explained the importance of that write-off for the $250 million man who this year declared himself part of the "80 to 90 percent of us" who are middle class:
The move could clear away the last remnants of a divisive primary race, insuring that he and his financial supporters are focused on helping McCain...Still, Romney's investment in his own campaign and the donor network he built may have helped his vice presidential stock go up. The $45 million helped win widespread name recognition for Romney, who also raised more than $65 million from donors. Since McCain clinched the nomination in March, Romney has asked his supporters to contribute to a Republican National Committee fund that will be used to help McCain's candidacy and he has urged his campaign finance team to work for McCain.
(Ultimately, Mitt got John McCain's endorsement in 2012, if not the number two spot on McCain's ticket in 2008.)
Still, four years and $45 million later, Mitt Romney has recycled his old anecdote about his own grandchildren to show how he somehow cares about yours. Days before he described starting his career at the "entry level," fretting about "pink slips" and his love of being able to "fire people," Mitt once again stumbled over his stacks of cash (around the 2:30 mark above):
Indeed, Romney's tendency to misstep is often related to his clumsy efforts to downplay his upper-echelon socioeconomic background. At a rally in Peterborough last week, he was in the midst of responding to a softball question from a young boy in the audience about why he would go through the "difficulties" of running for president when he went on a long riff about re-writing his will.
Before, he said, he'd planned to leave everything to his sons, but now, he laughed, "I want to leave it all to my grandchildren." He then tried to pivot quickly back to his larger point--that he wanted his grandkids to inherit a better country. But the net effect of his story was to remind voters of his immense wealth--a subject that his rivals and the Obama campaign have frequently used to suggest he's out of touch with the travails of ordinary Americans.
Of course, it's easy for Mitt Romney to be out of touch when losing $45 million is almost an afterthought. Besides, if he succeeds at eliminating the estate tax, his heirs will more than get that back.
That tax is currently paid by less than a quarter of one percent of American estates each year. According to the Tax Policy Center, in 2009 fewer than 2,700 family farms and businesses owed the tax to Uncle Sam. But thanks to successful Republican brinksmanship, the December 2010 tax cut compromise lowered the rate from 45 percent to 35 percent while boosting the estate tax exemption to $10 million per couple. Now, Mitt Romney wants to make sure those 40 richest estates estimated to now pay the tax each year could keep billions of dollars away from the federal government.
And among those 40 estates would be his own. With President Romney zeroing out the estate tax, those 17 grandchildren would get a golden shower when their grandparents Mitt and Ann leave the scene. Their payday courtesy of all other American taxpayers could reach $84,000,000 (35 percent of $240 million).
But what about Mitt Romney's sons, authors of the now abandoned "Five Brothers" blog? "My boys," Governor Romney explained, "can make their own money." That's true (if you ignore their $100 million trust fund.) Still, cutting Tagg, Matt, Craig, Ben and Josh out of his will seems a little harsh after all they've done for their country. As their father Mitt explained in 2007:
"My sons are all adults and they've made decisions about their careers and they've chosen not to serve in the military and active duty and I respect their decision in that regard. One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president. I respect that and respect all those and the way they serve this great country."
And their grandchildren, too.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)