Opinion Brief

Tim Kaine's 'tax the 47 percent' gaffe: Did he just lose Virginia?

In a key Senate race, the Democrat stumbles badly when asked about Mitt Romney's grumbling over Americans who pay no income taxes

Mitt Romney's fellow Republicans have been struggling to distance themselves from the presidential candidate's toxic remark that the "47 percent" of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes expect the government to hand them everything — from "health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it." But in Thursday's Senate debate in Virginia, it was the Democratic candidate, former Gov. Tim Kaine, who got tripped up by Romney's gaffe. When grilled over whether everyone should have to pay federal income taxes, Kaine said he'd be open to a proposal imposing a "minimum tax level for everyone." GOP candidate George Allen pounced, saying that hiking taxes on the poor and middle class is "typical Tim Kaine," and just another example of how tax-and-spend junkies are always "looking to raise taxes." Kaine had been surging in recent polls. But did he just torpedo his chances of winning one of the nation's most important Senate races?

In a word, yes: The Democrats have a simple, effective tax message, says David Weigel at Slate: "Trust us, we only want to tax the rich — as, according to polls, all of you voters do." "Literally no one" — except maybe Michele Bachmann — is seriously proposing a "minimal tax rate to end the great problem of Moocherism." By stupidly endorsing that idea and throwing a winning message under the bus, Kaine has committed "one of the most obvious unforced errors" ever."The Ballad of Tim Kaine; or, how not to talk about tax rates"

It's not fatal, but it still helps Republicans: Kaine just gave Allen plenty of fodder for campaign ads, says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. And it serves Democrats right, after their week of reveling in the "orgaffemic coverage of the Romney video." In the end, this won't kill the Democrat's candidacy, but "Kaine's goof-up" will certainly "put up a firewall" for Allen and other Republicans against the Democrats' soak-the-rich tax assault."Tim Kaine: Why, yes, I’d be open to a minimum federal income tax for everyone"

This just proves that debates matter: Kaine is not finished — he "just blunted whatever polling momentum was headed his way," says George Zornick at The Nation. The 47 percent — who do pay sales, payroll, and other taxes — don't make enough money to shell out more, which is why Romney came off as "cruel." Kaine actually knows that — this tax proposal is not actually part of his plan — he just wasn't prepared. Paying attention, Mitt? Debates matter, so get ready for your own grilling or you'll wind up in "a huge mess," too."Tim Kaine provides a cautionary tale for Mitt Romney in the debates"

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

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