Romney under pressure over tax returns

Mitt Romney’s campaign was left on the defensive this week, after the Obama campaign launched a series of attacks on his business record.

What happened

Mitt Romney’s campaign was left on the defensive this week, after the Obama campaign launched a series of attacks accusing Romney of outsourcing American jobs abroad at the private equity firm Bain Capital, lying about his role at Bain on SEC documents, and hiding the truth about his personal finances. Romney had defended himself against the outsourcing charge by saying he left Bain in 1999, but The Boston Globe reported that Bain filed documents showing Romney receiving a six-figure salary as CEO until 2002. Romney’s campaign explained that discrepancy by saying he’d “retired retroactively” from Bain, after leaving to run the Olympics in Salt Lake City. Political pressure for Romney to disclose more than one year of his tax returns, meanwhile, intensified when an Obama campaign ad showed Romney singing “America the Beautiful” while mocking his tax shelters in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

Despite calls from other Republicans that he release more than his 2010 tax return, Romney said he would not give Democrats more material to “pick through, distort, and lie about.” Obama’s attack ads, he said, were designed to draw voters’ attention away from the economy. “What does it say about a president whose record is so poor that all he can do in this campaign is attack me?” Romney said.

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What the editorials said

Romney has some explaining to do, said The New York Times. He himself denied quitting Bain in 1999 back when he needed to prove he was a Massachusetts resident while running for governor in 2002. But now that Bain is accused of outsourcing American workers’ jobs to China during that time, he says he wasn’t involved. He might clear all this up, and the tax shelter questions, too, by releasing Bain records and personal tax returns from that period. Yet he has “resisted all demands for more disclosure.” Why?

Romney must bow to the inevitable, said, and release his tax returns. His current position is unsustainable, and allows the president to fight this election “over tactics and minutiae,” when we should be focusing on the economy. Romney’s returns are unlikely to reveal anything except his wealth, and voters already know that he’s rich. “Release them, respond to any attacks they bring, and move on.”

What the columnists said

What exactly is Romney hiding? said John Cassidy in To conceal his tax returns in the face of so much pressure must be the result of a typical Romney “cost-benefit analysis.” Since he’s paying such a high price for his secrecy, there must be something truly damaging in those returns. My guess, said Joshua Green in, is that Romney lost so much paper wealth when the stock market collapsed in 2008 that he was able to declare an overall loss and pay no federal taxes at all the following year. “If true, this would be politically deadly for him.”

His tax returns are irrelevant, said Daniel Foster in, and Romney shouldn’t cave in to “Obama’s heckling.” Who cares if he has “clever accountants”? Romney should remind voters of the “reams of personal minutiae” the IRS demands from American citizens—and tell them that when he’s president, he’ll make the tax code simpler and fairer. You don’t win campaigns by playing defense, said Marc A. Thiessen in The Washington Post. So Romney should go on offense, focusing relentlessly on the president’s many failures, especially our moribund economy. With Obama playing dirty, Romney needs to “grab a bottle, break it on the bar, and start fighting back.”

Romney is in real trouble, said Charlie Cook in, and counterattacking Obama isn’t the answer. His campaign made a critical strategic error in emphasizing Romney’s business background, while failing to “build up its candidate as a real human being”—a person voters could like and trust. That has allowed Obama’s team to step in and define Romney themselves, as a ruthless, tax-dodging plutocrat who lives by different rules than ordinary Americans. That characterization is “sticking to Romney like Velcro,” and until he does something bold and decisive, “he has lost control of the debate.”

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