Romney and his surrogates launched a fresh assault on rival Newt Gingrich on Wednesday, calling the former House speaker’s tenure in Washington “leadership by chaos” and likening him to former vice president Al Gore.
“It’s the private sector that creates jobs,” Romney said at a Spartanburg rally. “Congressmen taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the Internet.”
But the offensive did little to quiet a growing debate among Republicans about Romney’s reluctance to release his tax returns.
Gingrich plans to release his own returns on Thursday and to tee up the tax issue for a debate Thursday night in Charleston. Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) said he will release his returns, too, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry said GOP voters need to vet Romney’s returns to determine whether he might “get eaten alive” against President Obama.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, was the most prominent Romney supporter to call publicly for the swift release of his returns, while Republicans close to the campaign said there was direct private pressure on the candidate and his Boston team to deal with the issue immediately.
“What I would say to Governor Romney is if you have tax returns to put out, you should put them out,” Christie said on NBC‘s “Today” show. “And you put them out sooner rather than later because it’s always better in my view to have full disclosure, especially when you’re the front-runner.”
The editors of National Review also called for swift release of the forms and pointedly described the former governor’s response to a question about the matter in Monday’s debate in Myrtle Beach “the weakest moment in his weakest debate.”
The editorial argued that, while there probably is nothing in the returns that would be terribly damaging, quick disclosure before Saturday’s primary would help reassure Republicans. “We know that should Romney become the nominee, he will be criticized over the sources of his wealth and will have to effectively respond,” the editorial said. “Republican primary voters deserve to see whether he can do so before they vote.”
The issue has dogged Romney since he first indicated that he might not release his returns. But after he shifted positions during a debate Monday and acknowledged Tuesday that he has paid an effective tax rate of about 15 percent, GOP strategists said the political cost of delaying the release has escalated dramatically.
“He looks guilty,” said Ed Rogers, who is unaligned. “It’s just going to be untenable for Romney to keep it up. . . . This new tax return issue is a new bumper sticker: ‘Release them.’ And a bumper sticker always beats an essay.”