Mitt Romney: Perhaps Damned if He Does, Surely Damned if He Doesn’t

Perhaps damned if he does, definitely damned if he doesn’t

And so it goes.  Mitt Romney’s great tax return boondoggle.  It just keeps going on and on, with no end in sight.  Even his detractors might be feeling some sympathy for the man.

The last week has brought accusations from the Senate Leader, Harry Reid (D), claiming that Romney paid no taxes in the years 2000 to 2009, based on an tip from a former Bain employee, whose name he will not disclose.

The underlying question is whether one year of taxes (2010) and one estimate (2011) are sufficient for any reasonable voter.

For the vast majority of Presidential candidates in the recent past, fuller disclosure has been the norm.  Even the candidate’s own father, when running for President, famously released 12 years of returns.

Why then are the returns so important?  Perhaps for another candidate, they might not be such a hot-button issue.  But, especially in the case of Romney, with his leveraged buyout background, this issue will have staying power.

The fact that he has tucked money away in Swiss and Cayman Island accounts, added to the alleged financial chicanery that resulted in his 401K swelling to over $100 million – improbable for most workers – implies to me that a significant chunk of truly independent votes will not be content with his gentle shooing away from the subject.

For polarized Democrats and Republicans, there are probably no minds left to be made up.  The issue is going to be with independents and whether one tax return (so far) is acceptable. My gut says too many independent voters will have a problem with the secrecy.

Also, in terms of pure politics, nature abhors a vacuum.  Right now, that vacuum is the missing Mitt Romney returns. The problem is that the vacuum WILL be filled, but only Romney gets to decide what with. Telling everyone to drop it will not work, regardless of his tone of voice.

Let me put it as starkly as I can: If Romney does not produce the tax returns, he will most assuredly lose the general election.

Now, he may still lose it if he produces the missing returns and they contain egregious information about tax havens, not paying any taxes for one or more years, or shady accounting practices e.g., the famous “carried interest”.

So Mitt may indeed be in a lose-lose bind.  Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.  However, if the returns are totally innocuous and he refuses to release them, then he will be the most foolish man on earth and truly own the name “Mitt the Twit”.

So, this vacuum will be filled with something – perhaps speculation, partial leaks, allegations and even lies from Romney’s adversaries.  But it will be filled with something.  Only Romney can determine whether it will be filled with truth.