Big Mistake

Republican Debate: Mitt Romney’s Tax Flub

Newt grabbed the headlines, but Mitt’s fumbling over what to do with his tax returns may haunt him for months to come. By Eleanor Clift

Republican primary voters have a tough choice. Mitt Romney still looks the most presidential of the foursome, but his claim of electability is wearing thin. In each successive debate, he reminds me more of Robert Redford in The Candidate. He will say and do whatever it takes, including withholding his tax returns until after he secures the nomination. Newt Gingrich is right when he says if there’s something in Romney’s tax returns that could sink his candidacy, it’s better to know now than after he’s the nominee.

Romney knows that too, which must be why he sputters and looks acutely uncomfortable when pressed to say declaratively when he’ll release his returns, and for how many years. Being reminded that his father, George Romney, established the highest ethical standard when he ran for president in 1968, must make this eager-to-please son squirm.

Gingrich had his returns released as the debate was underway. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are in no hurry. Santorum may not want to showcase his windfall of wealth after leaving the Senate, much of it from special interests that undermine his claim to be a Washington outsider.

When I comb through Gingrich’s returns Friday, I’ll be keeping in mind his assertion that the janitors in New York are paid “an obscene amount of money.” I have a feeling I might find some of the fees paid to Gingrich for consulting on various issues more obscene.

I wish I had counted the number of times Romney said the words “free” and “freedom,” as in the freedom that allowed him to earn all that money. It wasn’t handed to him, by golly, he made it himself, and he’s not going to apologize for being rich. Watching him recite all those freedom-loving answers is rich too since he’s the most scripted and constrained candidate on the stage.