Posted by Chris Cillizza –
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney continues to be steadfast in his refusal to release any more than his last two years of tax returns, a position that has already become a distraction to his presidential campaign and could cause considerably more agitation if he doesn’t figure out a better answer — and soon.
“Perception is becoming Romney’s reality and these issues have now risen above mere distractions,” said John Weaver, a Republican consultant and former senior adviser to Sen. John McCain’s (R) 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns. “The President has had the worst three months of any incumbent, due to the economy, since George H.W. Bush in 1992, and yet Romney has lost traction among key demographic groups in the vital swing states. He has got to get this behind him or he’s going to face summer definition ala [Bob] Dole and [John] Kerry. ”
Democrats are doing everything in their power to define Romney negatively before the two parties gather for their national conventions later this summer.
The Obama campaign is up with a new — and brutal — ad today in which a narrator details Romney’s complex financial history and then says that it all “makes you wonder if some years he paid any taxes at all”, adding: “What is Mitt Romney hiding?”
A Democratic National Committee web video echoes that secrecy message, featuring a series of Republicans urging Romney to release his tax returns before noting that the one person who did have access to a Romney’s financial past — McCain during the 2008 VP vetting process — decided to go in another direction. (That last claim is a bit of a stretch; Romney was never seriously regarded as a potential veep pick for McCain — not because of his financial past but rather because the two men simply didn’t get along.)
For the moment, the Romney team — and his orbit of advisers — seem to have decided to pursue the same course of action they did when the release of his tax returns bubbled up as an issue in the primary.
“My tax returns that have already been released number into the hundreds of pages,” Romney told National Review’s Robert Costa today. “And we will be releasing tax returns for the most current year as soon as those are prepared. They will also number in the hundreds of pages.”
Back then he insisted that the reason his Republican opponents wanted the information was in order to use it as a political ammunition against him and that he was not interested in giving them a bat with which to beat him.
Former Minnesota Rep.Vin Weber, an adviser to Romney’s campaign, made a very similar case regarding the release of any further returns in the general election.
“The Democrats aren’t calling for all this information so that they can move on to other issues,” said Weber. “They will take anything released and pick it apart for as long as they can to avoid discussing the economy, which is their goal.”
Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committeeman from Mississippi and a Romney supporter, added that giving in on the tax returns would amount to Republicans allowing Democrats to define the terms of the debate.
“Romney will never satisfy the Obama campaign,” said Barbour. “No matter what he does, it won’t be enough and their demands won’t stop until after November 6.” Added Barbour: “Why doesn’t Obama release all the ‘Fast and Furious’ documents?”
(Worth noting: Barbour’s uncle, former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, said that if he was in Romney’s place he would release more years of tax returns.)
Both Weber and Barbour are right. Tax returns — particularly for someone as wealthy as Romney — are an opposition researcher’s dream come true.
It’s a near certainty that Romney, like any other very wealthy person, did everything he could to pay as little tax as legally possible. There’s nothing wrong with that from a legal perspective but from a political perspective it could well help define Romney as out of touch. The Obama campaign knows this. It’s why they are trying to force Romney’s hand.