It’s a bad sign for Mitt Romney when conservatives begin to question why the presumptive Republican nominee won’t release more of his tax returns. But on Sunday, that’s what happened. Conservative analysts joined Democrats in wondering whether Romney is just being impolitic in not releasing several years worth of returns — or whether he’s trying to hide something.
Democrats have been calling on Mitt Romney to release more than one year of his tax returns with a series of web videos and public statements. So far, he has released his 2010 returns and an estimate of his 2011 returns.
To politicos across the ideological spectrum, Romney’s unwillingness to release anything beyond these two years raises the question: if it’s worth the bad press to keep the tax returns private, they must contain something worse.
“The cost of not releasing the returns are clear,” said conservative columnist George Will, on ABC’s “This Week.” “Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”
On the ABC roundtable, Republican strategist Matthew Dowd had a similar take.
“There’s obviously something there, because if there was nothing there, he would say, ‘Have at it,’” Dowd said. “So there’s obviously something there that compromises what he said in the past about something.”
“Many of these politicians think, ‘I can do this. I can get away with this. I don’t need to do this, because I’m going to say something and I don’t have to do this,’” Dowd said. “If he had 20 years of ‘great, clean, everything’s fine,’ it’d all be out there, but it’s arrogance.”
In the last week, several Republicans have advised Romney to release his returns. That list includes former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former RNC chairman Michael Steele and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who called for “total transparency” and said he releases all his tax returns. On “Fox News Sunday,” the Weekly Standard’s editor Bill Kristol added his voice to the list as well, calling for Romney to “release the tax returns tomorrow” and “take the hit for a day or two.”
The speculations from Will and Dowd jibe with what Obama surrogates have been saying, and reveal why the president’s backers see a political benefit to harping on Romney’s tax returns.
On ABC’s “This Week,” Chicago’s mayor and Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said that in 2008, John McCain saw 23 years of Romney’s tax returns and opted for Sarah Palin instead.
“The Romney campaign isn’t stupid,” Emanuel said. “They have decided that it’s better to get attacked on a lack of transparency, lack of accountability to the American people, versus telling you what’s in those taxes.”
The Romney campaign played down the issue, arguing that Romney is already doing more than is required by law by releasing his 2010 and later his 2011 returns. “We are going to release them,” Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie said of those two years on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And that’s above and beyond what the law requires, by the way.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” top Romney aide Kevin Madden also said Romney had already gone “above and beyond.”
The Obama campaign is framing the issue as indicative of how Romney would govern.
“I’m not suggesting that based on what we know, that he’s done anything illegal,” top campaign adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But what I am suggesting is that he’s taken advantage of every single conceivable tax shelter loophole that we can see. And now is he the guy that’s gonna clean up our tax code and make it advantageous to average taxpayers and the country? Or is he gonna look at it through the lens of his own experience?”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.