In our inbox: At 11:00 AM PST, the Vice President will tape a radio interview with Ryan Seacrest.

Back in the real world… wait, what?

Newt's tax returns - how do they compare?

dcdecoder:

The Associated Press is reporting that Newt Gingrich paid north of 30 percent of his income in taxes in 2010 on income of $3.1 million. That’s double Mitt Romney’s rate “around” 15 percent. Below, you can compare that to what Barack Obama and Rick Perry pay in taxes. See more below the fold from our previous post.

Mitt Romney never has coughed up his tax returns. But today, he told an audience in South Carolina he pays “closer to the 15 percent rate than anything.”

“What’s the effective rate I’ve been paying? It’s probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything,” Romney said. “Because my last 10 years, I’ve … my income comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past, rather than ordinary income or rather than earned annual. I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away. And then I get speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much.”

Romney fumbled and stumbled to describe why and when he’d release his tax returns in South Carolina on Monday night before offering a little more light today. What’s striking is that Romney didn’t release his tax returns when he was a candidate for governor of Massachusetts, nor during his governorship, nor during the 2008 campaign.

In fact, Romney has only faintly committed to releasing one year of his tax returns, meaning any (possible) financial hijinks from the past won’t go in front of the public’s eyes. Still, attack lines from Newt Gingrich and others saying Romney is holding out on South Carolina voters by holding off such disclosure until March or April don’t ring true when compared to past campaigns - as Yahoo’s The Ticket writes, both 2004 and 2008 saw most of the candidates release their tax returns around the same window Romney cited in his debate answer.

So Decoder wanted to know: What are other politicians paying in taxes?

In 2010, Barack Obama paid nearly half a million dollars - $453,770 - from total income of $1,795,614, for an effective tax rate of 25 percent. Here’s the President’s tax document, in case you’re interested in looking it over.

(If you’re prone to geeking out over such things, there are quite a few interesting tidbits about Obama’s life in his tax return. For example, the Obamas’ most favored charity was the Fisher House Foundation, a group that gives free or low cost housing to veterans receiving treatment at medical centers. The Obamas donated over $130,000 to the cause.)

Rick Perry, who has released his tax returns since 1987, paid 23.4 percent of his $217,000 to the federal government in 2010.

Why is Romney’s rate lower? Much of his wealth comes from investment income - far more than your average presidential candidate when you compare his financial disclosure form to, say, Gary Johnson’s. Because dividends are taxed at 15 percent, even someone as megawealthy as Mitt Romney (estimated net worth: $270 million) can pay taxes far below the US’ top marginal tax rate of 35 percent.

Herman Cain’s financial disclosure, for what its worth, shows a lot about wealth but less about tax rates.

Want to check out your favorite candidates financial disclosure form? See them all from OpenSecrets.org here. (Spoiler: Ron Paul owns lots and lots and lots of stock in gold miners.)

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, accompanied by his wife Ann, campaign at the Florence Civic Center in Florence, S.C., Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

(Source: dcdecoder)

"I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake."

CNN’s John King goes through a brutal breakdown of why Mitt Romney’s (perhaps) slip-of-the-tongue in Tuesday night’s debate has deeper implications for the former Massachusetts Governor.

In short, it illuminates something GOP voters have long been wary of with Romney: that political expediency trumps principle.

Keep up with all the parodies of Romney’s phrase on Twitter by following “#Imrunningforofficeforpetessake.”

What really went down at the GOP debate in Vegas (Part I)

Over course of almost two hours last night, the GOP candidates said a lot. But for those of you who don’t have time to read the actual transcript, here’s what your friends at Decoder actually heard. (Hint: you can watch the intro in the video. And our “complete” transcript follows below…)

GoAnimate.com: Decoder Decodes The Debate, Volume I 

ANDERSON COOPER: Hello everyone. I’m Anderson Cooper and I’m on Twitter. This debate will have no buzzers, no bells, really no moderating at all. OK, let’s have the candidates introduce themselves.

SANTORUM: I have seven children. 

PAUL: I’m the only one who means it when I say I will slash spending. I’ll really do it, I swear. 

CAIN: I’m a businessman. I solve problems for a living.

ROMNEY: I wish I’d said that. I solve problems too! Better than he does!

PERRY: I’m conservative. I’m from TEXAS. This guy standing next to me is from MASSACHUSETTS. And by the way, I had six cups of coffee tonight.

GINGRICH: I think I’ll suck up to Las Vegas. Maybe I can get a gig here when all this is over! Also, I hate class warfare. And food stamps.

BACHMANN: I’m the only woman up here and I’m going to make everyone uncomfortable with a bad “what happens in Vegas” joke.

ANDERSON COOPER: OK, the first question is about Herman Cain’s 999 plan. Michele Bachmann is trailing badly in the polls and becoming almost irrelevant, so I think I’ll send it to her.

BACHMANN: I know about taxes because I worked for the IRS for a few months in between several maternity leaves! Also, I pay taxes. 

CAIN: Everyone criticizing my plan should go to my website and read the analysis there. It has bullet points and everything. Also, the tax code is a 10 million word mess, and my plan is really short. Hardly any words at all.

SANTORUM: Herman’s plan is bad for families! Did I mention I have seven children?

PERRY: I’m going to call Herman “brother.” Because I don’t have race issues or anything. Also, I’ll throw in a weird reference to “bumping plans” with him. Because I don’t have gay issues or anything.

PAUL: I’m for NO income taxes!

CAIN: Federal taxes are like apples. State taxes are like oranges. And in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m the king of providing simple metaphors in response to complicated problems.

ROMNEY: I don’t want to eat apples and oranges. My digestive system can’t handle too much fruit.

GINGRICH: I think I’ll offer condescending encouragement to Herman, and then eviscerate his plan. Bwahahahaha!

BACHMANN: Every American should pay taxes. I hate that 47 percent! But I also want to abolish the tax code.

PERRY: Time to reference my energy plan.

SANTORUM: Time to attack Romney for passing the original Obamacare in Massachusetts. Hey CNN, can I get a split screen while he responds? Thanks.

ROMNEY: I created that plan for MASSACHUSETTS. Because those people are weird. Maybe not even American. I would never try to sell something like that to the nation.

SANTORUM: I’m going to interrupt!

ROMNEY: Hey, it’s still my turn! My turn!

SANTORUM: No, it’s my turn!

ANDERSON COOPER: Santorum, Romney ate your time. Instead of the apples and oranges.

GINGRICH: Mitt, your plan is philosophically barren. I’m the expert on philosophy, you know.

ROMNEY: We got the idea from you! Mr. Heritage Foundation philosophy guy!

GINGRICH: Oh stop it with all your flattery [blush].

[commercial break] Read Part II of the debate here. Read Part III here.

What really went down at the GOP debate in Vegas (Part II)

Over course of almost two hours last night, the GOP candidates said a lot. But for those of you who don’t have time to read the actual transcript, here’s what your friends at Decoder actually heard. (Hint: you can watch the intro in the video. And our “complete” transcript follows below…)

GoAnimate.com: Decoder Decodes the Debate, Volume II 

ANDERSON COOPER: We got a Twitter question about Obamacare. I’m all over Twitter, by the way.

CAIN: I may be a pizza guy, but I can do Washington-speak too: HR-3400. See? Look how credible that makes me sound!

PERRY: Time for my pre-planned surprise attack on Mitt over immigration. He once used a lawn service that employed illegal immigrants! And since this whole accusation got thoroughly vetted and basically disposed of in the last campaign, he definitely won’t expect me to go there!

ROMNEY: OK, I may have to pull out my favorite Mormon curse words, ding dang it, you flippin’ flip head. Must act cool. You’re not letting me talk! If you attack me, you have to let me talk!

PERRY: [smirk]

ROMNEY: You’re the one with immigration problems! You gave illegals $100,000! I only paid them sub-minimum wage to trim my hedges. Besides, I was already running for president when I hired that company. Do you think I’m stupid or something? I’d only knowingly hire illegals if I thought no one would be digging into my background.

ANDERSON COOPER: Herman Cain, you have gone back and forth about whether you meant it or not when you said you wanted an electrified fence along the border. I’m going to give you a chance to do that again.

CAIN: It was a joke but I really meant it.

PERRY: An electric fence isn’t tough enough! I’d send the whole friggin’ Army out there. And Predator drones!

BACHMANN: President Obama has relatives who are illegal immigrants. Let’s get them!

ROMNEY: Hispanics aren’t bad people. If they come here legally. Please consider voting for me in the general election.

GINGRICH: Most Latinos aren’t immigrants - they’re born here. Seriously, they’re breeding like rabbits.

ANDERSON COOPER: I’m going to ask Rick Perry about the 14th Amendment and see if he knows what I’m talking about.

PERRY: I’ve finally got that hang of this debate thing: I don’t have to answer the question! I can say any old thing I want. Let’s talk about energy again!

[commercial break]

ANDERSON COOPER: I still want someone to answer my 14th Amendment question.

BACHMANN: I will!

SANTORUM: I will too! Did I mention I have seven children? So I’m sort of like those Hispanics.

ANDERSON COOPER: Let’s see who wants to pander to Nevada on the Yucca Mountain issue.

GINGRICH: I’m on the record supporting this, so I’m going to stall now.

ROMNEY: No Nevada boycott for me! Nuclear waste: BAD. But hey, maybe some other state will want it.

ANDERSON COOPER: Maybe now that the debate is almost over, I should bring up the foreclosure issue. Romney said something potentially controversial about that the other day, so I think I’ll ask… Rick Santorum!

SANTORUM: Romney, Cain, and Perry all supported TARP!

PERRY: No I didn’t.

SANTORUM: Um, yeah, you did. We have it in writing. That letter you sent to Congress, telling them to pass it?

PERRY: Don’t know what you’re talking about.

CAIN: I may have been for it initially, but that was a mistake. Mulligan on that one!

BACHMANN: Time for a misty-eyed appeal directly into the camera. I’m a mom, talking to all those other moms out there. If you’re a mom worried about foreclosure, I’m the only one here who understands. Because did you see that I’m the only mom up here?

ANDERSON COOPER: Herman Cain, do you still think the Occupy Wall Street protestors are a bunch of lazy kids?

CAIN: Yup.

PAUL: They should be picketing the Federal Reserve! The source of all evil!

ROMNEY: Those protestors aren’t bad people. Please consider voting for me in the general election.

[commercial break] Read Part I here. Read part III here.

What really went down at the GOP debate in Vegas (Part III)

Over course of almost two hours last night, the GOP candidates said a lot. But for those of you who don’t have time to read the actual transcript, here’s what your friends at Decoder actually heard. (Hint: you can watch the intro in the video. And our “complete” transcript follows below…)

GoAnimate.com: Decoder Decodes the Debate, Volume III

ANDERSON COOPER: Time for another hot-button topic that I toss to the wrong candidate! Rick Santorum, what do you think about Mormonism?

SANTORUM: I’m Catholic.

GINGRICH: I love this question! I’m the philosophy guy!

PERRY: It’s getting late. Time for a rambling answer. 

ROMNEY: If Perry doesn’t want the ball on this, heck, I’ll take it.  Look how statesmanlike I can be!

ANDERSON COOPER: Let’s ask someone about cuts to defense spending. Bachmann, you’ve got that crazy-eye thing - what’s your take?

BACHMANN: I’m not as crazy as that guy in Iran. He’s REALLY crazy! I’d go after him!

ANDERSON COOPER: But how do you square toughness on budget cuts with toughness on defense?

BACHMANN: That’s the advantage of crazy! We can cut defense spending, and as long as our enemies think I’m willing to nuke ‘em, they still won’t mess with us!

GINGRICH: I’m a hawk, but I’m a cheap hawk. Um, just don’t ask Tiffany’s about that, ok?

PAUL: I will cut EVERYTHING. I make all these guys look like sissies when it comes to budget cuts.

ANDERSON COOPER: Speaking of defense, Herman Cain, what did you mean when you said you would exchange all the prisonners at Gitmo for one US soldier?

CAIN: Did I really say that? Whoops.

PERRY: Let’s defund the United Nations!

ROMNEY: I’d cut foreign aid by funneling that money through the Defense Department. Because nobody wants Defense cuts. Sneaky, huh?

PAUL: Cut all foreign aid!

BACHMANN: Not to Israel, though. Because they’re supposed to be there in the end times.

CAIN: Seriously, guys, if I said that, I messed up. Another mulligan!

[commercial break]

ANDERSON COOPER: Time for a Romney softball. Which one of you guys could really beat Obama?

SANTORUM: Hey, I’m from Pennsylvania. Obama might lose Pennsylvania! Unless I’m the nominee, and then, let’s be honest, he will definitely win it.

ROMNEY: Enough said.

PERRY: Shoot, I forgot to attack Mitt on his jobs record! 

ROMNEY: Rick Perry supported Al Gore. A stiff, technocratic, centrist politician who has trouble relating to people. Hmm that actually sounds kind of familiar….

ANDERSON COOPER: Herman Cain, since you’re clearly not a serious candidate, who do you like better, Mitt or Rick?

CAIN: Yo, Anderson - haven’t you noticed? America doesn’t want a serious candidate! They’ve had it with these guys. Just you watch. I’m teflon.

ANDERSON COOPER: OK, time’s up.

BACHMANN, GINGRICH AND SANTORUM: Noooooooooooo!

BACHMANN: I didn’t get to say my line about Obama being a one-term president yet! I didn’t get to talk about Ronald Reagan yet!

GINGRICH: I didn’t get to criticize all my opponents for “bickering” and look like the patronizing grownup in the room. I didn’t get to challenge Obama to old-fashioned Lincoln-Douglas style debates, because America hasn’t had enough of me pontificating yet.

ANDERSON COOPER: Tough. Did I mention I’m on Twitter?

[And that’s a wrap] Read Part I here. Read Part II here.

CNN Debate Wrap-up: Four things we learned in Vegas

Didn’t catch last night’s GOP debate in Las Vegas? We’ve got you covered. After our liveblogging and a read through this morning’s papers (the best of which are linked to below), here’s your day-after reader for CNN’s “Western Debate.”

1. Rick Perry - don’t call it a comeback.

Whether it was more sleep, more red bull or more cowbell (just kidding), this was a far different Rick Perry than we’ve seen in the previous debates. He had a pre-canned attack line on Mitt Romney over some 2007-vintage campaign dirt about illegal immigrants cutting his lawn, he was ready to take on Herman Cain’s “999 Plan” and while he sometimes lost his train of thought, he got his awkward three second pauses down to one second pauses.

And Rick isn’t stopping there. He’s flying through Washington, D.C. this week to meet with politicos and lobbyists and solicit their ideas on his jobs plan and foreign policy. And, as Decoder wrote in our wrapup last night, this next month or so until the next debate swaps Perry’s weakest tool (his debate persona) for his strongest suits (retail politics and bombing the airwaves with his massive campaign warchest.)

Could it be time for Rick to start his roll?

2. Herman Cain is apparently incapable of answering any question about foreign policy without fumbling. Hard.

Cain got a shellacking at the outset over his “999 Plan.” Perhaps you could have seen that coming. But by far his worst debate moment was after the debate, when he said he “misspoke” on something he said only three hours before - that he would be willing to negotiate with a terrorist group holding an American soldier, potentially exchanging an American for many or all the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

This is after some less-than-inspiring remarks on Meet the Press last Sunday, among other foreign policy mishaps.

3. The longer Rick Santorum sticks around, the more nervous Romney, Perry and to some extent Cain, are going to be.

Rick Santorum is re-defining what it means to be playing with house money. He got after Cain right off the bat about “999” not doing anything to help the American family, then he piled on Romney on healthcare:

The final point I would make to Governor Romney, you just don’t have credibility, Mitt, when it comes to repealing Obamacare. You are — you are — your plan was the basis for Obamacare. Your consultants helped Obama craft Obamacare. And to say that you’re going to repeal it, you just — you have no track record on that that — that we can trust you that you’re going to do that.

If there’s a good attack line unearthed by the media, you can bet Santorum is going to take it. Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich criticize the frontrunners; Santorum scorches ‘em.

4. Mitt Romney can have pretty thin skin.

We’ll let Nate Silver of the New York Times’ fivethirtyeight blog spell this out:

Mr. Romney’s worst moment came when Rick Perry challenged him in a somewhat non-sequitur attack where he accused Mr. Romney of having employed illegal immigrants at his home. The problem was not with the substance of Mr. Romney’s response but with his demeanor. Demonstrative to the point of appearing angry and somewhat red-faced under the stage lights, Mr. Romney grabbed Mr. Perry on the shoulder and seemed on the verge of losing his temper.

Controlled anger can sometimes work in a debate — Ronald Reagan’s “I am paying for this microphone” exchange with a reporter in New Hampshire perhaps being the best example of this. But it is a high-risk, high-reward strategy, something that Mr. Romney does not need, and Mr. Romney was responding to a fellow Republican rather than to a moderator.

We noted this in the prior debate when Romney admonished Rick Santorum (“I’m still speaking. I’m still speaking!”) in a way that left Decoder feeling like Romney’s next move was to tell Santorum to go to his room and think about what he’d done.

What does this mean, in practical terms? Perhaps nothing. But was by far Romney’s least “presidential” moment of the campaign so far. Voters might not, to borrow from The Hulk, like Mitt when he’s angry.

And, as always, the best reads from around the web.

POLITICO’s Roger Simon writes: Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright, the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light. And somewhere folks are laughing, and somewhere children shout, but there is no joy in Vegas - - the GOP has struck out. Again. 

Slate’s John Dickerson was equally unimpressed, particularly by Herman Cain’s answers to criticism of his 999 Plan: “But this is like turning around Godfather’s Pizza by promising the pies will make themselves…Sure, Cain can continue to push his plan. But if he can’t do a better job explaining and selling it, he might as well just give in to the notion of a fantasy campaign and promise he’ll ride a unicorn in his inaugural parade.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza thinks there were two winners - Mitt Romney and “Rick Perry’s aggression.” And, sadly, everybody else…

Like your facts checked and served in digestible format? Read The Washington Post’s Fact Checker breakdown of statements from last night’s debate.

Did he really say that? Read CNN’s transcript of the whole event here.

Does what happens in Vegas stay in Vegas? Our CNN Debate wrap-up

Whew - it was nasty out there tonight!  If last week’s debate was like a polite hour sitting around the dinner table, this one was an out-and-out food fight.

The attacks flew so fast and furious that we’re having a harder time calling outright winners and losers. Nearly everyone got in the game tonight and nearly everyone got roughed up.  So for all intents and purposes, we’re calling it one big tie (or one big mess).  But that doesn’t mean some candidates weren’t helped - or hurt - by their performances. For our specific analysis of how each candidate fared, read on…

Mitt Romney:

Romney wasn’t bad tonight, but he didn’t emerge as the overwhelming winner the way he has in previous debates. He came under attack a lot - he spent almost as much time defending his “time” (to speak, that is) as he did his positions (though he may take some heart in the fact that the audience booed several of the attacks on him). And while he generally defended himself well, it felt like the attacks may have rattled him more than usual. There was even a notable moment of physical contact, when Romney touched Perry’s arm during a heated exchange.

Romney punched back quite a bit, too - mocking Perry for “a tough couple of debates,” and whacking Gingrich for supporting an independent mandate in the 1990s healthcare debate. Above all, on a night when his opponents were really throwing out red meat on issues like immigration, Romney also came across as more moderate, which probably won’t help him. 

Rick Perry:

Big sigh of relief in Perryland tonight. It wasn’t a perfect performance - and some answers still got a little rambling towards the end - but finally, the man showed some life. Perry on the attack is clearly better than Perry on the defensive (or Perry on tranquilizers) - and tonight he was definitely on the attack. He even ventured to raise the issue of illegal immigration (a sore spot for his campaign), using it to launch an attack on Romney for allegedly hiring a lawn service that employed illegals (nevermind that it’s a story that was aired and exhausted during the previous campaign cycle).

Perry’s answer on Mormonism wasn’t as strong as it could/should have been. But given that pundits had generally proclaimed this as Perry’s last best shot to reenergize his campaign, we think he cleared that hurdle.

In addition, with more than a month between this debate and the next, Perry’s weakest leg of his candidacy (his debate game) is going to give way to his strongest (retail politics and spending his fat campaign warchest on television ads). And now, he may be leaving a better debate image in voters’ minds than his weak performances in the other debates would suggest.

Herman Cain:

Cain’s 999 plan was eviscerated by every opponent on the stage. But Cain has shown an uncanny ability to brush off attacks - and tonight, he was generally unflappable, repeatedly insisting that his opponents just didn’t understand his plan. He took “999” and focused the next part of the discussion on “apples” of state taxes versus “oranges” of national taxes. The man clearly has a talent for simple metaphors. And pesky details aside, we wouldn’t underestimate the visceral appeal of his plan to throw out the “ten million word mess” that is the US tax code and replace it with something simple.

Yes, there were stretches of the debate where he seemed to disappear. But when the spotlight turned to him, he remained confident, unflustered - and, maybe most important, honest. Cain admitted some mistakes (his initial support for TARP). He stood strongly behind other statements (like his comment that the Occupy Wall Street crowd should blame themselves for not being rich). Given the fire he’s come under, he held up remarkably well.

Rick Santorum:

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again. Santorum has shown an earnest, intelligent appeal at recent debates. Yes, he can at times seem like the school hall monitor tattling on the cool kids. But he may be carving out a space for himself as the conservative candidate who speaks most eloquently about the importance of family. And he’s a smart tactician: His attacks on Romney (over healthcare) and Perry (TARP) earned him tons of extra face time tonight with CNN’s split screens. Deftly noted that he was the only one on the stage who has won a swing state (Pennsylvania) “as a conservative.”

Michele Bachmann:

Boy, did Bachmann try hard to grab attention tonight. She crafted a real “moment” when she spoke right into the camera to “moms” who are worried about losing their homes to foreclosure. But she’s also tried those kinds of moments before, so somehow it didn’t feel all that new (it reminded us in particular of the way she tried to seize the HPV issue by identifying herself as a mom worried about little girls). She went after Cain’s tax plan, and remains perhaps the strongest critic of Obamacare. Still, it’s hard to see her getting significant traction out of this debate. She wins for worst joke about “what happens in Vegas…”

Ron Paul:

Paul still gets strong applause at these debates for his consistency and uncompromising positions (knocking off various government agencies, bringing American troops home from overseas) but tonight we were struck by one thing in Paul’s performance: He might not be enough of a prima donna on a stage that has Santorum, Bachmann, and Gingrich on it. All three of those candidates were willing to wail for more time - or launch strategic attacks on top-tier opponents - something Paul has been unwilling to do so far. Not that conspiring for screen time is all that presidential, but when you’re not in the top tier, getting attention is most of the battle.

Newt Gingrich:

Can we say: condescending? Professor Gingrich shouted to get his last two cents in just as the debate was coming to a close and came out with a rousing broadside at President Obama on not a major policy issue, but … his desire to have Lincoln-Douglas style debates between the GOP nominee and Obama with no moderator. His next-most-memorable moment was Mitt Romney whacking him (Mitt Romney! Beating up somebody else!) on healthcare. Not so good.

Catch all of CNN’s post-debate coverage online at www.cnn.com/politics. (Sponsored message)

"Anderson needs a conch shell."

Reader Monty in our livechat. Check us out there with Shortformblog!

How do you think Anderson Cooper has done as a moderator tonight?

Shortformblog, killing it on the tweet. Background on the Gingrich family and Tiffany.

Shortformblog, killing it on the tweet. Background on the Gingrich family and Tiffany.

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