Mitt Romney has handed the Obama team a doozy of an issue to club him with, one they may now use as a cudgel for months. In a statement made late in the week before Christmas–one I expect his advisors are already regretting–Romney claimed he won’t release his tax returns. Considering that all major party candidates have done so going back decades, this is a major unforced error, especially in light of Obama 2012’s strategy of making the reduction of income inequality a major part of their rationale for the president’s re-election. Romney’s hubristic promise will allow them to make their criticism even more personal, pivoting from saying Romney’s protecting the wealthy by refusing to consider higher rates for upper income taxpayers to implying he’s also protecting his own vast fortune. Moreover, it is likely that behind the veil of Romney’s tax returns is the fact that much of his wealth–from investments and Bain Capital, where he worked for many years, and from whom he still receives substantial income–is taxed at the capital gains rate of 15%, an even lower rate than that under which most taxpayers are assessed.
The DEMs have already put up a clever website What Mitt Pays that calculates what ordinary folks pay, compared to what we’d learn Mitt’s probably paying, if only he’d let us peek behind the curtain. I can’t believe that Romney–who in a maneuver reminiscent of the George W. Bush administration, purchased and then destroyed all the computer hard drives from his years as governor of Massachusetts–is going to be able to withstand what may become months of pressure to make his tax returns public. Well, maybe he will, or maybe he expects to do so, but he’s going to pay a steep political price for the stonewalling. Either way it’s an ideal issue for the DEMs to show voters that Mitt is totally a creature of the 1%.