Mitt Romney appears rather desperate to shield his tax returns from public scrutiny. He has the materials -- when Romney was considered for John McCain's 2008 ticket, the former governor turned over 23 years worth of returns -- he just doesn't want to share the materials.
The Romney campaign, however, has a new line it hopes will put a stop to the questions. Ed Gillespie told Fox News the other day, "In 2004, John Kerry as a Democratic presidential nominee, released two years of tax returns. In 2012, Governor Romney will release two years." Romney himself repeated this on CNBC yesterday, saying, "John Kerry released two years of taxes."
The problem, of course, is that the talking point isn't true. Judd Legum explained that Kerry, by the time of his 2004 presidential campaign, had actually released 20 years of tax returns.
Romney was only off by a factor of 10.
The larger point, however, is that Romney's secretive habits and desire to keep relevant details out of public view are opening up a new vulnerability that Democrats seem eager to target: his penchant for secrecy. The Democratic National Committee released this video on Tuesday, asking "what else" Romney might be hiding.
If it were just the tax returns, it'd be problematic enough, but Romney appears to have established a pattern that leaves him vulnerable: he bought the hard drives from his term as governor so he could hide emails from the public; he's hiding the names of his fundraising bundlers from the public; he's keeping details of his policy agenda hidden from the public until after the election, etc.
These moves don't exactly inspire trust in the presumptive Republican nominee.
For its part, there's a Republican response to this: Obama is going after Romney's religion. No, seriously.
Alec MacGillis flagged a report from Mike Allen's Playbook, in which he quoted an unnamed Republican pushing back against accusations surrounding Romney's secrecy.
"These are exactly the kind of questions we asked about Obama in 2008 and were accused of race baiting, or suggesting he was somehow un-American. Now they ask it: What's his secret? It does seem like they are going after the Mormonism, right? I'd do the same thing if I was them. But we were never up on our high horse about better angels and hope and change and all that B.S."
Allen's report also quoted an unnamed LDS member:
"[T]his is a way to talk about Romney's Mormonism without appearing to be attacking his religion.... Because, isn't Mormonism some mysterious cult involving secret temple rites and strange undergarments? And it just happens to dovetail with some minor points on offshore accounts, but I think the message between the lines is clear."
I have to admit, I didn't see this one coming. If Democrats notice that Romney is keeping his tax returns hidden, and he purchased 17 state-issued hard drives, purging the Romney administration's email records in advance of his presidential campaign, this is all part of an elaborate scheme to talk about ... Mormons?
Someone's going to have to explain this one to me.
My sincere hope is that we won't reach the point at which every criticism of Romney leads to shrieks from Republicans saying, "See? They're attacking his faith!" This kind of response to legitimate and secular inquiries is cheap, lazy, and wrong.