Tim Kaine Explained

The candidate’s spox cleans up his debate remarks in a short TPM interview.

“He would look at a package of comprehensive tax reforms and if a proposal was included in that, he wouldn’t close the book on looking at the proposal,” said Brandi Hoffine, spokesperson for the Kaine campaign. “It would really depend on what else was in the proposal. He doesn’t think this something we need to do right now — as he said, the problem with Mitt Romney’s comment is most of those people do pay taxes.”

I think I see the problem. Tim Kaine was elected twice to statewide office in Virginia, narrowly both times (Lt. Gov. in 2001, governor in 2005). He earned the sort of pragmatism-not-politics rep that turned Mark Warner into the state’s most popular politician. And then, in 2009, he became chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He spent the early years of the Obama presidency defending a party that was becoming increasingly unpopular in Virginia. In 2011, he left the DNC to become a U.S. Senate candidate, aware that there were hundreds of hours of tape tying him to the guy who’d lead the ballot in November 2012. And so he started running on pragmatism again. A quick perusal of Kaine’s campaign emails to supporters finds him warning against “a senator who will vote lockstep with his party” and “the tired divisions of the past.”

So: David Gregory asks the tax question again and again. Kaine’s been programmed to never rule out anything bipartisan. He gives his dumb answer. But I don’t think the dumb answer appreciates how cynical you need to be to win elections in 2012. Look: The House and Senate passed mandatory defense and discretionary spending cuts because Republicans demanded them in exchange for a debt limit hike. A year later, the existence of these cuts are being used against Democrats.

It doesn’t matter if Republicans are talking up the need to decrease the number of lucky duckies. Be more cynical! Telling a skeptic that the “47%” don’t need to pay income taxes may sound partisan, but it’s one of the party’s winningest stances.