These Tone Deaf Comments From David Rubenstein Won’t Help Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

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David Rubenstein, the founder and chairman of private equity giant the Carlyle Group, defended Mitt Romney’s tax rate, Dealbook reports.But the comment isn’t likely to buoy the prospects of the hopeful Republican nominee much:

…Rubenstein…said Mr. Romney was just following the tax laws when he paid a rate of 13.9 per cent on income of more than $21 million in 2010.

“If you change the law, we’ll pay the taxes,” Mr. Rubenstein said to scattered applause during a debate at Davos on the future of capitalism.

It’s hard to think of a more tone deaf comment, both in context and content. 

First, the context. Defending low tax rates for the wealthy from an event attended by the most ultra of the global financial elite just doesn’t come off well.

The World Economic Forum is well aware of its reputation, so much so that the ‘theme’ of this year’s meeting is conspicuously entitled “The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models,” as if intentionally crafted to prove that attendees are working hard to solve the problems the world is facing.

Second, the content. In many ways, this is the worst part.

When a politically connected multi-billionaire says, “If you change the law, we’ll pay the taxes,” it’s hard not to translate the comment as, ‘go ahead and try, it won’t work.’

By not simply coming out and supporting a change to the tax code, Rubenstein displayed a deep, almost willing, lack of self-awareness.

David Rubenstein is, and sees himself as, an influential figure on issues like economic and tax policy. Yet when the opportunity arises for him to exert that influence in a manner that might harm his self interest, he abdicates all responsibility. By his telling, he’s just playing by the rules and its up to others to change them. No mention of the fact that he plays a key role in shaping those same rules.

And that, to date, has been Mitt Romney’s position.

It’s tone deaf and irresponsible for David Rubenstein to be so agnostic on tax reform that would in any way affect him.

But for Mitt Romney, that same refusal to say precisely how he feels about the rules that apply to him is becoming a massive liability.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Romney campaign has already sent Rubenstein a memo on his Davos comments.

The likely title: ‘Not Helpful’