We'll know more about the electoral impact as time progresses, but yesterday's independent analysis of Mitt Romney's tax plan changed the nature of the debate. Researchers at the Brookings Institution and the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center delivered the equivalent of an electoral bombshell: the Republican's proposal cuts taxes on the rich and pays for it by raising taxes on the middle class.
It took less than a day for President Obama's campaign team to turn the revelations into an ad.
The tagline is brutal: "Mitt Romney's middle class tax increase: He pays less, you pay more." According to a campaign source, the spot will air in New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada.
Not surprisingly, the Romney campaign is not pleased, and spent much of yesterday afternoon attacking the report. Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said Americans should question the results because the Tax Policy Center scholars who conducted the research are "liberal."
There are a few problems with this. First, this isn't an argument. Second, the Romney campaign has previously said the Tax Policy Center is "objective" and "non-partisan." And third, one of the co-authors of the report is a Bush administration veteran.
When the "liberal" talking point failed miserably, the Romney campaign tried a new tack: the Brookings/TPC analysis is flawed because the economists failed to account for "dynamic" scoring. As the argument goes, the Romney plan will produce such extraordinary results, the economy will boom, and the numbers will add up if you account for the magical awesomeness.
But here's the thing: the researchers "bent over backwards to literally give Romney every possible benefit of the doubt" and worked under the dubious assumption that more Republican tax cuts will stimulate the economy. Brookings/TPC ran the numbers while playing by Republican rules and the results were still a disaster.
There's a larger arc to this story, and it's critically important.
When it comes to taxes, Romney is effectively making two points. The first is that he can offer a 20% across-the-board income tax rate cut, while also eliminating the estate tax on millionaires and billionaires, slashing corporate tax rates, and approving a capital-gains tax cut, too.
The second part of the argument sets the parameters of his promise: he can do all of this without raising the deficit or destroying basic American institutions, simply by eliminating various tax deductions and tax expenditures.
Which ones? We don't know; Romney refuses to say. We're just supposed to take his word for it, comfortable with the knowledge that the plan will work.
But yesterday, the charade fell apart. Tax-policy experts whom Romney himself has described as "objective" and "non-partisan" ran the numbers exactly as the Republican candidate asked, using the parameters the Republican candidate created for himself.
And the results confirmed what has long been assumed: either Romney will grow the deficit dramatically or he'll have to raise taxes on 95% of the population in order to give new tax breaks to the rich.
There's no way around this; the arithmetic is stubborn.
Romney's numbers simply don't add up. Period. Full Stop.