The fierce pushback from Republicans against Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) appears to only be fueling his quest to tear down Mitt Romney over his finances. The Senate majority leader is telegraphing that he has no interest in letting up.
The latest salvo in the intensifying spat comes from Reid’s chief of staff David Krone, who upped the taunts by calling Republicans “a bunch of cowards” and “henchmen for Romney” in an interview with Politico late Sunday night.
“To turn it around, all their childish rants this weekend about calling Reid a ‘liar’ and all that, it just shows you how scared they are that Harry Reid was telling the truth,” Krone told the paper.
Top Republicans on Sunday flatly accused the Senate majority leader of lying when he claimed Romney didn’t pay taxes for a decade, something he says he learned of from an as-yet-unnamed investor to Bain Capital. Reflecting the frustrations of his party, an incensed Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called Reid a “dirty liar,” and has since repeated the epithet.
Reid wasn’t fazed. His spokesman Adam Jentleson responded in the afternoon by vouching for the credibility of the source and inviting Romney to disprove the claim by releasing a series of tax returns. Calling him the “most secretive candidate since Richard Nixon,” Jentleson told TPM: “It’s clear Mitt Romney is hiding something, and the only way for him to clear this up is to be straight with the American people and release his tax returns.”
The allegation irritated the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board, which called it “a smear from the fever swamps that say more about Mr. Reid’s ethics than they do about Mr. Romney’s taxes.” But Reid isn’t on the ballot this year; Romney is. And as the Journal argued, “Mr. Romney’s problem is that he can only disprove the charge by releasing his tax returns.”
For Romney, it’s a lose-lose proposition because doing so comes with its own risk. The Republican nominee has amassed a fortune, mostly via investment income that allows him to pay a lower tax rate than many working Americans, and Democrats are eager to turn that into a liability with middle class voters.
The Romney camp is feeling the pinch, which might explain why the Obama campaign and top Democrats are standing by him, if not latching on to his narrative.
“Harry Reid made a statement that is true,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told the Huffington Post. “Somebody told him. It is a fact.”
The tactics mirror a brand of vicious, no-holds-barred campaigning that Republicans have in recent decades bested Democrats at using.
“It’s a boxer’s instinct,” Reid’s spokesman Jentleson told the New York Times. “You find your opponent’s weak spot, and until he finds a defense, you keep pounding it.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.