There seems to be growing chorus of criticism from conservatives over Mitt Romney, and an increasing consensus that Romney cannot win this election. In mid-June, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer described Romney as a “stolid, gaffe-prone challenger for whom conservatism is a second language”. A harsh critic of President Obama, Krauthammer recited a list of Obama’s economic policies on Fox News in early July and concluded that with all that evidence at Romney’s disposal, “If he can’t make the argument, he doesn’t deserve to win the election”. Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan questions Romney’s political sophistication and criticizes his speaking style. She recently wrote that Romney tends to “litter his speeches with applause lines,” warning Romney that he risks losing voters – “If all it is is applause lines, they’ll turn away”. Conservative pundit George Will was even more blunt, saying on last Sunday’s “This Week”: “Mitt Romney’s losing at this point, in a big way. Republicans have now nominated someone from the financial sector at a time when the financial sector is an extremely bad odor.”
Within the past two weeks there’s been a growing chorus from Romney’s fellow Republicans calling on him to release his tax returns. While Romney provided 23 years of tax returns to the McCain campaign in 2008, when he was being vetted as a possible Vice President running mate, Romney has publicly released one year’s return – 2010, in which he reported earning $22 million and paid only a 14% tax rate. Romney has promised to release his 2011 tax return “before the election”. But more and more of his fellow Republicans are calling for him to provide many more years of tax returns.
“Politically, I think that would help him. In the scheme of things politically, you know, it looks like releasing tax returns is what the people want.” – Texas Congressman Ron Paul
“I’m a big believer that no matter who you are, or what office you’re running for, you should be as transparent as you can be with your tax returns and other aspects of your life so that people have the appropriate ability to judge your background and what have you. I think anyone running for office, if they get asked within reason to give people background about what they have been doing, including tax returns, should do that. That’s my deal on it.” – Texas Governor Rick Perry
“He should release the tax returns tomorrow. It’s crazy. You gotta release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns. Take the hit for a day or two.”- Conservative pundit and author Bill Kristol on “Fox News Sunday”
Is there something they’re worried about? Are they concerned that something in Romney’s tax returns would be greatly damaging to his candidacy, and if there is they want that out now, before the Republican National Convention in August?
“If you have things to hide, then maybe you’re doing things wrong. I think you ought to be willing to release everything to the American people.” – Alabama Republican Gov. Robert Bentley
“The cost of not releasing the returns are clear. Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.” – Conservative pundit George Will on ABC’s “This Week” just last Sunday
BusinessWeek’s Joshua Green speculates on just what Romney might be hiding:
Last night I had dinner with some (non-Bain) private equity executives, and I took the opportunity to quiz them on the topic and test my own theories about Romney’s tax returns. Let me emphasize that I have no idea what is in those returns, and neither did anyone I spoke with. What follows is unfounded, though not implausible, speculation. The most intriguing scenario that emerged about what could be lurking in those returns is as follows:
When the stock market collapsed in 2008, the wealthiest investors fared worse than everyone else. The “ultra-rich”—those with fortunes of more than $30 million—fared worst of all, losing on average about 25 percent of their net worth. As a member of the ultra-rich, Romney probably wasn’t spared major losses. And it’s possible he suffered a large enough capital loss that, carried forward and coupled with his various offshore tax havens, he wound up paying no U.S. federal taxes at all in 2009. If true, this would be politically deadly for him. Even assuming that his return was thoroughly clean and legal—a safe assumption, it seems to me—the fallout would dwarf the controversy that attended the news that Romney had paid a tax rate of just 14 percent in 2010 and that estimated he’d pay a similar rate in 2011.
The “zero tax in 2009” theory—again, this is sheer speculation—gains further sustenance when you consider it’s the only year for which nobody knows anything about Romney’s taxes. He’s revealed what’s in his 2010 and 2011 returns, and he reportedly submitted 20-some years’ worth of returns to the McCain campaign when he was being vetted for vice president in 2008.
That would indicate that 2009 is singularly important and, if there’s anything to this theory, incredibly vexing for Romney because there’s no way he could release additional returns without including that year. And the chaos that would ensue would be bad enough that it’s probably worth enduring significant damage to avoid.
Interesting theory. And again, as the author points out – it is sheer speculation, although not implausible. But Romney could end the speculation in a heart beat by simply releasing his tax returns, which even his Republican colleagues are calling for him to do. Mitt Romney’s own father, George Romney, inaugurated the practice more than 40 years ago by releasing 12 years of tax returns. But, there is also something else that happened in 2009: The IRS announced in 2009 a partial tax amnesty for unreported foreign bank accounts, in light of the Justice Department’s criminal investigations involving several Swiss banks. Edward D. Kleinbard. a professor at Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California, speculates in an article at CNN.com:
To date, some 34,500 Americans have taken advantage of such amnesty programs. Did the Romneys avail themselves of any of these amnesty programs? One hopes that such a suggestion is preposterous, but that is what disclosure is for — to replace speculation with truth-telling to the American people.
For once I’m going to agree with Republicans – Romney should release his tax returns. It’s crazy for him not to. Unless he’s being crazy like a fox.