Harry Reid’s Victory Lap, with a Detour

Hello, New York Times? Washington Post? Most of America’s supposed political experts and pundits? Harry Reid will accept your apology. And you owe him one.

Yes, Barack Obama handily won re-election, but Harry Reid had almost as good an election as the president, except for one loss and one incomplete.

The most obvious gain for Reid is in the Senate Democratic caucus. From a lead of 53-47, he now has 55. More crucially, Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman didn’t run again and a Democrat replaced him; although Lieberman voted with Democrats most of the time, he also gave Reid a royal pain in the posterior on several occasions, such as changing his tune several times during the health care fight and occasionally questioning the president’s patriotism. Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, probably the Senate’s most conservative Democrat (he had to be—he was the only Democrat elected statewide there), leaves, but that’s a wash with the arrival of Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, who knows he won mainly because his Republican opponent was someone the Tea Party might think is conservative.

Reid also saw his state approach go national. Does anybody remember the Obama campaign chopping up Mitt Romney during the primaries? What did Reid do in 2010 in Nevada? The same thing: cut up the GOP front-runner, Sue Lowden, thereby helping Sharron Angle win the primary. If you think that technique didn’t help Obama, let’s agree that it didn’t hurt him. And it reminds Democratic Party minds of how sharp Reid and his people are.

Even the loss spoke well for Reid. Running for the Senate, Shelley Berkley faced several problems: the attacks, some of them untrue, over her ethics; never having run statewide; and being a Las Vegas Democrat whom some northern Nevada Democrats wouldn’t vote for simply because of where she lives, and too liberal or questionable for some Clark County Democrats (that’s laughable). She still came within one percentage point or about 12,000 votes of beating Dean Heller. And that had little to do with Heller being a great candidate or campaigner. She came that close through her own hard work, yes, but in no small part due to the Democratic apparatus that Reid erected.

The incomplete is the needed apology. During the campaign, Reid announced, both in interviews and on the Senate floor, that a source had told him that Mitt Romney had paid no income taxes for the past decade. Romney released only two years of returns and refused to release any more. Reid argued that Romney had no more to release.

For this, many in the national media excoriated Reid. The Washington Post’s right-leaning “Fact Checker” called his the biggest lie of the campaign by anyone not with the Obama or Romney campaigns. Even liberal commentators attacked Reid.

Well, gee. Along came Bloomberg News, which broke this story Oct. 29, amid the concerns about Hurricane Sandy and plenty of more important political ruckusing. But the story says Romney created a charitable remainder unitrust in 1996. Congress took steps against this later, but it was perfectly legal at the time. Here’s the key paragraph:

“In this instance, Romney used the tax-exempt status of a charity—the Mormon Church, according to a 2007 filing—to defer taxes for more than 15 years. At the same time he is benefiting, the trust will probably leave the church with less than what current law requires, according to tax returns obtained by Bloomberg this month through a Freedom of Information Act request.”

Again, nothing illegal. But it means that Romney may have paid no taxes over a 15-year
period.  Romney might call that a gift to his church, or to himself.

Reid probably won’t hold his breath waiting for apologies. He won’t get them, or the
plaudits he deserves. But to invoke George W. Bush, a lot of people misunderestimate Harry Reid.