Mitt Romney's refusal to disclose his tax returns has gotten some media attention lately, but I don't see that this attack has successfully migrated out of the pundit zone and into the heads of most average American voters. I think a lot of this has to do with the way Obama and the Dems have pushed the story so far: "Every other presidential candidate in the modern age has released more than two years of tax returns," and "If there's nothing to hide than there's nothing to fear," and etc.
So far, Romney and his surrogates have responded to the demand for the release of additional tax returns by simply lying about precedent. For example, Romney claims that John Kerry only made two years of tax returns public before he ran for president, a claim that John McCain repeated a few months ago on Face the Nation. In fact, by the time he ran for president John Kerry had actually released about 20 years worth of tax returns -- not the two that Romney and McCain claim.
The fact that McCain has been shilling for Romney is telling. After all, 4 years ago when Romney was angling to be McCain's running mate Romney made 23 years worth of his tax returns available to John McCain as part of his vetting process -- a vetting process that Romney failed to pass. Indeed, John McCain ultimately decided that Sister Sarah Palin would be a better running mate than Mitt Romney.
If you look at it that way, the way to get some traction for this story is simple: make it a conspiracy.
The media absolutely adore juicy conspiracy stories. In terms of ginning up audience interest and ratings, they provide more bang for the buck than nearly anything else. The TeeVee blow-dries can bloviate and speculate and wonder what it all means and what it could mean and what Romney might be hiding and it's our job to find out and it doesn't cost them a dime. After all, investigative journalism is expensive but speculating? Speculating is for free, and speculating about a (potential) scandal, a (potential) scandal that could affect the Presidency? That's practically free money to the talking head crowd.
If I were in charge of getting this story some legs, I'd be having op-eds ghostwritten for newspapers around the country, and I'd be sending surrogates onto the talk shows to make the following simple but highly-charged argument: Mitt Romney already has 23 years' worth of tax returns compiled -- he gave them to John McCain. And McCain, after looking through them all, decided that Sarah Palin was a better choice for the vice-presidency than Mitt Romney. What could possibly be in those returns that is so terrible that John McCain rejected Mitt Romney in favor of Sarah Palin? And now that he wants to be President of the United States, why is Mitt Romney so terrified to show the America people what John McCain decided made Mitt Romney unfit even for the Vice-Presidency? Why won't Mitt Romney level with the American people?
I just don't see how this doesn't get a ton's worth of positive coverage for Obama and the Democrats. (And by "positive coverage for Obama and the Democrats" I really mean terribly negative coverage of Romney and the GOP). McCain will have to go on the TeeVee and claim that it wasn't the tax returns that made him pick Sarah Palin over Romney, which will then lead people to wonder what else Mitt Romney might be hiding. It'll humiliate McCain, who will then have to argue with a straight face that he really did pick the best candidate for the position -- which weakens Romney even further, exposes McCain for the clueless old man that he is, and reminds voters that it is the Republican Party that attempted to foist Sister Sarah on us in the first place.
It'll bring Sister Sarah out of the woodwork, because then she'll have to insist that McCain did in fact make the right choice, further driving a wedge between the Teabillies that still hang on her every word and the more pragmatic Republicans who - after all - basically nominated Romney because they think he is the only person who can beat Obama . . . an assessment that the rabid, Teabilly base did not share, as evidenced by the successive candidates who took turns occupying the NotRomney spot at the top of the polls for months.
Seriously, I don't see a downside on this one. It'll grab the media, it'll drive a wedge into the GOP, it'll remind average Americans why they turned their backs on Bush, McCain and the GOP only four years ago, it'll humiliate Romney, it'll keep the story going forever or until Romney releases his tax returns, and it'll be free.
Yeah. I really do think they should do this.