Why Mitt Romney isn’t releasing his tax returns, part 563

August 16, 2012

Mitt Romney still isn't releasing his tax returns.


Mitt and Ann Romney

In an interview set to air on NBC's "Rock Center" tonight, Ann Romney reiterated the now-familar position of she and her husband when it comes to putting any more than their 2010 and 2011 returns out: No way, no how.

“We have been very transparent to what’s legally required of us,” Ann Romney told NBC's Natalie Morales. “There’s going to be no more tax releases given.”

Ann Romney's insistence that she and her husband have done everything "legally" required of them in regards paying their taxes has been a regular refrain from the Romney family, -- a refrain that seems to miss the point that the debate over their tax returns isn't playing out in a court of law, it's playing out in a political campaign. And the rules of engagement and the burden of proof in political fights are far different than in legal brouhahas.

No one is alleging that Romney did anything illegal. (Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has said that a "source" has told him Romney didn't pay taxes for 10 years, is not accusing Romney of breaking the law.)

But simply because Romney didn't break any laws doesn't mean he can't be hurt by a drawn-out debate over whether he owes it to voters to release more years of tax returns.  Using this logic, we've said in this space before that Romney should simply release more returns -- under the premise that no matter what's in them, it can't be as bad as what Democrats can conjure in voters' mind if he doesn't release them.

Ann Romney's latest statement, however, seems to confirm that there remains no interest from within Romneyworld to break with their past pledge. Why not? Two thoughts:

* Stubbornness: It's quite clear now that the two people who are most opposed to releasing the returns are Mitt and Ann Romney. They simply don't feel it's necessary knowledge for voters and, at this point, are unwilling to give in to Democrats' attempts to force them to put out more years of their taxes.

"The campaign staff may be dealing with a 'no options, no problems' scenario, because the candidate and the Mrs. have drawn a line," said Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers. "We won't know until they start writing their books."

People tend to forget that candidates don't do what they don't want to do. Staff advice is all well and good but, at the end of the day, it's still staff advice. If a candidate and his immediate family feel one way about a decision, that's almost certainly the course the campaign will take. So it could be with Romney and the tax-return question.

* No satisfaction: Romney himself has said that calls by Democrats for him to release more tax returns have nothing to do with an altruistic desire for the public to know more about his finances and everything to do with the hope of finding some nuggets of opposition research that can be used against him.

In that, he's right. And, releasing another two years of tax returns -- beyond the 2010 and 2011 returns he plans to put out before the election -- would almost assuredly be met by Democrats with calls to release even more information from other years.

"Let's say Mitt Romney released 100 years of tax returns tonight," said Alex Castellanos, a Republican media consultant who advised Romney in 2008.  "What do you think the odds are that the Obama campaign would say, 'Oh great Mitt. Thank you! Now we can put that behind us and move on to more substantive issues like entitlement reform!' Zero."

Added Castellanos: "I'd advise Mitt to release 10 years of tax returns when Obama releases 10 years of birth certificates."

Whatever the reason, it now seems increasingly likely that the 2010 and 2011 returns are the only tax information we'll see from the Romney campaign in this election. In not releasing more, they are making a calculated gamble that people simply do not vote on issues like this one in a time of economic distress. It's not an insignificant bet, given the stakes.

Ryan talks Medicare: For the first time on the campaign trail Wednesday, Ryan worked Medicare into his stump speech.

“The president, I’m told, is talking about Medicare today,” Ryan said in Ohio. “What I don’t think he’ll be telling people is that the president took $716 billion from the Medicare program; he raided it to pay for Obamacare. The president’s campaign says this raid of Medicare to pay for Obamacare, which leads to fewer services for current seniors, is an achievement."

Left unsaid: Many of the Medicare cuts in Obamacare are also in Ryan's budget. Of course, as we noted Wednesday, the Romney-Ryan ticket is shedding that aspect of the GOP budget as it seeks to create a contrast on Medicare and play some offense.

DCCC launches first IE ad on Medicare: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching its first independent expenditure ad of the 2012 election. And the topic is ... wait for it ... Medicare!

The ad is running in Michigan's 1st district, which covers the Upper Peninsula of the state, and is the first money the committee has spent on an individual race through its IE program, which will spend the bulk of the committee's money over the next three months.

The ad hits freshman Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) with video of him advocating for the privatization of Medicare and Social Security.

Benishek faces a rematch with former state representative Gary McDowell (D).

Fixbits:

Ryan says Biden's "chains" comment shows the Obama campaign is desperate.

But it wasn't the first time Biden used that metaphor.

Rudy Giuliani keeps up his feud with Biden: 'If a Republican vice president had said that, and in the space of 24 hours had also gotten wrong the state that he was in, and today the century that he was in, you would be raising all kinds of questions about this man’s fitness for office."

Biden responds: "The Etch A Sketch is gone."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) suggests Obama might want to dump Biden from the ticket.

new GOP poll in Maine shows former governor Angus King's (I) lead in the state's Senate race might be slipping, but is still a healthy 46 percent to 28 percent over Secretary of State Charlie Summers (R).

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), who voted against Ryan's budget, was initially left off a list of the Romney-Ryan campaign's farmers and ranchers coalition. It turned out to be in error.

Chelsea Clinton won't rule out a future run for office: "So if there were to be a point where it was something I felt called to do and I didn't think there was someone who was sufficiently committed to building a healthier, more just, more equitable, more productive world? Then that would be a question I'd have to ask and answer,"

Must-reads:

"A most poisonous campaign" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post

"Front-seat view of history" -- Jimmy Vielkind, Albany Times-Union

"So far, it’s Paul Ryan 0, Jim Messina 1. Get ready for the next round." -- Jason Horowitz, Washington Post

"Romney: No more Obama’s a Mr. Nice Guy" -- Reid J. Epstein, Politico

"Romney pick presents new challenges for Biden" -- Peter Wallsten and David Nakamura, Washington Post

"Why moderates should like Paul Ryan" -- Ross Douthat, New York Times

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Sean Sullivan | August 15, 2012