I find it curious that Mitt Romney has decided to personally engage Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on the income tax return question. As you know, Reid said he has a “source” who has told him that Romney didn’t pay any income taxes for 10 years. The majority leader has taken a lot of flack for his statement; some have ruled it unfair and beneath the dignity of his office. In other words, Romney seemed to be “winning” this exchange by not entering it. The focus has been less on Romney’s non-disclosure than on Reid’s supposed over-reach. But now, Romney has demanded that Reid reveal the source of his information. Reid, who has said his source is someone with ties to the private equity industry will easily side-step this issue and put the focus back on Romney’s refusal to release his returns, which irks the press as much as Reid's mischief.
Here’s Romney’s problem: He has an unprecedented and untenable position on his tax returns. In his defense, he may have drawn some lessons from the Obama “birther” controversy: No matter how much information you release, people will always want more. In the “birther” case, despite the campaign releasing a copy of Obama’s “certification of live birth” shortly after the issue arose in 2008, it wasn’t enough for some critics, who kept hounding the White House until, three years later, it released the original, long-form birth certificate. Polling in 2011, after this release, showed one-third of Americans remained skeptical or unsure of where Obama was born even after this definitive proof was released and verified.
Romney may mean it when he says he won’t release his returns and is willing to live with the consequences — suspicions that grow in the dark of non-disclosure. If so, then the last thing he should do is pick a fight with Reid.