GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's tax return problem will be his downfall. His refusal to release no more than two years of tax returns is a politically unsustainable position, but his release of anything more will be political suicide. He truly is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.
This has become an issue, because Romney has made it an issue. Republicans who jump to his defense and say this is not an important issue may be right, but it is an issue which could cost Romney millions of votes come November. Democrats win either way.
The Democrats won't let this issue go gently into that sweet night
If Romney lasts through the election with only releasing two years of tax returns (actually one, for 2011, he released an estimate only) the Democrats won't let this issue die. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he has it on good authority that Romney didn't pay any taxes for 10 years. This isn't the first speculation, and it won't be the last.
Democrats will continue to ask "what's Romney hiding?" Romney already has a transparency problem and questions about off-shore investments and over-seas bank accounts. Not releasing tax returns only feeds the speculation.
The Democrats have a point. What exactly is Mitt hiding? Did he have years where he paid little or no federal income through liberal use which deductions? Did he take advantage of over-seas' tax havens? Did he give millions to the Mormon church? The list goes on and on and will continue to go on and on until he releases more returns.
The Persuadables will be persuaded
The release or non release will never switch votes of those who have already made up their minds. The hardcore Romney supporters are not going to jump ship in large numbers regardless of whether he releases or not. The same goes for the hardcore Obama supporters. The place where this makes a difference is among the still persuadable voters - that ten percent or so who have yet to make up their minds.
This ten percent can be swayed by a number of issues or non-issues, but Romney will never get the support of a decent percentage of these voters, because they will know Romney only as the guy who's hiding something. Many of these unpersuadables already have a negative predisposition towards politicians. They just don't trust any politician, and Romney's reluctance towards transparency only reinforces their distrust.
Romney and his people are well aware of this, but have made a calculation that whatever those tax returns show is far more damaging than not releasing them. This brings up another issue, which does go to a more troubling concern.
The tax issue has been raised before
Romney had to know that his tax returns would be an issue. The tax return question was not first raised in the primaries, but it has been a bone of contention for his opponents since at least his 2002 run for Governor of Massachusetts. And, this isn't the first time Romney sought the Presidency. He ran in 2008.
How does a guy who's been running for President for at least the last five years fail to clean up his tax returns and make them look really good? If he had done this, he would be showcasing his tax returns and touting how he made a lot of money but gave a lot to non- controversial charities and paid his fair share of taxes.
If you are wealthy and take advantage of every tax deduction and tax loophole known to man, nobody cares and nobody will ever know. But, if you are running for President in a major political party, even the most naive politician would have to know that the voters want to see your tax returns, especially if you are worth $250 million.
Romney's father released 12 years of returns when he ran in 1968
It is particularly ironic that Romney wouldn't have been keenly aware that wealthy candidates for President routinely release their tax returns for multiple years. After all, Romney's father, the late George Romney, voluntarily released 12 years of tax returns when he ran for President in 1968.
The elder Romney, who was the former head of American Motors, said he released 12 years of tax returns, because one year could be a "fluke." It is also ironic that the elder Romney's effective tax rate was over 30 percent, while Mitt's effective rate in the 2010 return and the 2011 estimate was under 15 percent.
All in all, as Buzz and I see it, those unpersuadables may not know how Romney stands on Russo/United States relations or job creation, but they will know that Romney is a rich guy who refuses to tell them how much he pays in taxes. This alone is enough to persuade the unpersuadables that Romney is not their guy.
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