Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Romney's Tax Returns and the Politics of Perception


Politico Arena Topic: A Taxing Dilemma for Romney?

In 1968, Republican presidential candidate George Romney initiated the practice of releasing tax returns by making 12 years available to the public. Forty-four years later, his son, Mitt Romney, reluctantly made available only 1 year and that was only after withering criticism from his GOP rivals for the nomination. In 2008, when he was being vetted as a running-mate, Romney handed over 23 years of returns to the McCain campaign. No one knows for sure what the McCain people saw, but we are certain that Romney was not chosen.

By not releasing more returns, Romney leaves the impression that he has something to hide. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. But in politics, perception is reality, especially at the presidential level. During a presidential campaign, transparency is the best policy because the questions will continue and the negative attention will not cease unless the campaign makes a good-faith effort to clear up any questions. Even members of Romney’s own Republican Party are questioning his motives in not releasing more returns—a sure sign that this tax return controversy will only get worse. President Obama did not put the birther nonsense to rest until the state of Hawaii released his long-form birth certificate in April 2011. That contrived controversy has now all but gone away except for the handful of nut jobs and conspiracy theorists like Donald Trump, Joe Arpaio, and Orly Taitz who can’t seem to let it go (and may also believe the world is flat and that the moon landing never happened).

For Romney, it is best to put that information out now, deal with the negative fallout during the summer, and have the issue behind him when he picks his running-mate and goes to the convention. By waiting, he only risks blunting the momentum he will need coming out of Tampa in the sprint toward election day.

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