While Mitt Romney’s tax returns have faded from the news for the moment, you can be sure that they will re-emerge as an issue. The Obama campaign had been hitting Romney hard on taxes with ads such as this one.
The ads were clearly having an effect with Romneys having to proffer increasingly weird reasons for not releasing them such as the Obama campaign will nitpick them or that the Mormon church does not like the tithing figures made public. Mitt Romney event went so far as to call for a truce on the taxes issue, a clear sign of weakness that will guarantee that it will re-emerge soon.
The fuss over him not releasing his tax returns gets weirder and weirder. The fault of course, is entirely his. If he had taken a principled stand and said that he disapproves of the whole practice of candidates having to expose their private lives, that might have been defensible. But he has released his 2010 returns and promised to release his 2011 returns when they are ready. He has to file them by October 15, 2012 just three weeks before the election. He also reportedly gave the John McCain campaign many years of tax returns when he was auditioning to be vice president in 2008.
The longer this drags on, the worse it will be for him since he will be constantly on the defensive talking about it and that is something you don’t want to happen when you are the challenger. What makes it harder is that his campaign has so far consisted of broad generalities and the avoidance of any concrete proposals, hoping to keep the focus on Obama. Instead it has largely been about his wealth and taxes.
Of course, he longer he waits, the harder it will be to do so without giving he impression of weakness and caving in to opponents. I can’t imagine that he did not foresee this, so the decision to hunker down and not release them must mean that he think it will be damaging. Some are suggesting that it contains information that would be fatal to his candidacy and that he had decided long ago that he would not release them.
The most common speculation is that his returns would show that he took advantage of all manner of tax shelters and loopholes to pay taxes at a very low rate, even lower than the measly 13.9% he paid in the one year for which we have returns, or even none at all. Romney has denied this and given verbal assurances that he paid at least around 13% but we are supposed to take his word for it. Others have suggested that the problem with the tax returns may not have anything at all to do with the rate he paid but with what address he claimed as his residence, which may have constituted voter fraud.
Romney has tried to make tax avoidance a badge of honor by saying that he paid all the taxes that were legally required and that it would reflect badly on him if he did not exploit every loophole. I am not sure if voters will buy that. Digby suggests that since he has known that he would run for president since at least 2006 or so, the fact that he chose to keep all those shelters means that he values money even over running for president.
Matt Taibbi says that the current debate over Romney’s taxes is missing an important point about how income is classified that makes real be taxed at a higher rate than unearned income. “The Romney tax returns are a prime example of our increasingly two-tiered bureaucratic system, in which there is one set of rules for poor and middle-class people, and another set of rules for people like Mitt Romney.” Cartoonist Ruben Bolling gives us a look at the special tax form VRG-EZ that only Very Rich Guys are allowed to file.
As Tbogg says, Romney’s tax dance is just one part of the picture, which is that Romney is an extremely poor candidate.
Republicans have to be in a panic (see above). They haven’t even nominated their guy, they don’t trust him, he’s a terrible campaigner, his wife may be worse, everyone hates him, his campaign staff is a clown car chock full o’ bumblers, stumblers and maladroits, his foreign tour was a disaster, the media (which he ignores) is growing to loathe him more than the general public does, and the Republican convention is only four weeks away at which time Republicans are expected to formally tie the knot with him despite the fact that his unreleased tax returns are undoubtedly a ticking time bomb loaded with tax avoidance maneuvers, overseas accounts, and financial 3-card montes.
Given that the fundamentals of the economy are such that Obama should be losing handily, the fact that this race is so close is a symptom of Romney’s weakness as the Republican nominee.