Yesterday, the New Yorker quoted a mystified former adviser to Mitt Romney wondering aloud why nobody in the GOP has really taken a bare-knuckles approach to challenging Donald Trump. A few hours after that piece was published, Romney waltzed into the fray and threw a hard punch:
“This will give us a real sense of whether these people are on the up and up and whether they’ve been telling us things about themselves that are true or not. Frankly, I think we have good reason to believe that there’s a bombshell in Donald Trump’s taxes...I think there’s something there. Either he’s not anywhere near as wealthy as he says he is or he hasn’t been paying the kind of taxes we would expect him to pay, or perhaps he hasn’t been giving money to the vets or to the disabled like he’s been telling us he’s been doing, and the reason that I think there’s a bombshell in there is because every time he’s asked about his taxes he dodges and delays and says, well, we’re working on it.”
Romney isn't quite pulling a Harry Reid here, as he's not peddling rumor as fact -- but he is employing Trumpesque innuendo to raise questions that The Donald may find unhelpful. The former Republican presidential nominee ticks off a list of possible embarrassments Trump may be trying to keep under wraps, zeroing in on possibilities that pertain to subjects about which Trump likes to boast. (For what it's worth, the charitable giving for-instance here seems entirely plausible). How about it, Donald? You're running for the highest office in the land. You say you're a stupendously successful businessman with nothing to hide. And you've contended that your rivals' alleged baggage could turn into general election liabilities. Don't Republican voters have a right to know if there's a ticking time bomb in your past (or future) that would play into Democrats' hands? Trump responded to this deliberate provocation from Romney by -- what else? -- hurling insults via Twitter:
Mitt Romney,who totally blew an election that should have been won and whose tax returns made him look like a fool, is now playing tough guy— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2016
A perfectly Trumpian non-sequitur. Setting aside the fact that part of the reason Romney lost in 2012 was Democrats' ability to tie him to...Donald Trump, the former Massachusetts Governor's tax returns actually made him look like a diligent, law-abiding, hugely successful, prodigiously generous human being. Clear away the under-informed, Democrat-playbook cheap shots, and the question remains: What is sitting in Trump's returns that he seems so intent on hiding? Isn't this guy supposed to be a fearless, straight-shooting champion of the people? When CNN's Anderson Cooper pressed Trump on this point in an interview last night, the wealthy heir's response was fascinating:
Well, well, well. Mr. Non-politician sounds an awful lot like a squirrely, slippery politician here. "We'll make that determination" over the next "several months," he says of the decision whether to release his tax records, adding that he's in "no rush" to do so because nobody is really talking about it. But Mitt Romney is. And now the media very much is. And you'd better believe the Democrats will, if Trump's the nominee. When Cooper drills down about whether the billionaire is committing to produce his returns at some point during the campaign, Trump hedges again, reiterating that they'll "make that determination" down the line. His excuses about the complexity of his taxes, and the assertion that he's audited every year, make no sense. Romney and Cooper aren't asking for a window into Trump's current tax filing process, which could very well be extremely complicated. They're asking to see recent years' returns that have already been filed and submitted. All Trump would have to do is pull out his files and fire up the Xerox machine -- all of the requisite work has already been done. Simple as pie. And if all of those returns subjected to federal audits as claimed, there should be even more of a paper trail. So why all this jargon about complexity and mentions of vague future "determinations"? This evasiveness only fuels suspicions that Romney is onto something, which could prove invaluable to Democrats down the line. The time for full disclosure is now. Speaking of which:
.@marcorubio plans to release tax returns this weekend, per campaign.— Alex Leary (@learyreports) February 24, 2016
What a coincidence! Within hours of Romney raising the tax returns issue to rattle Trump, Rubio's campaign just happens to announce their forthcoming disclosure plans. It's almost as if this two-step was part of a coordinated effort to focus attention on a Trump vulnerability. (When does collaboration turn into overt support?) Now that this is officially a campaign issue (just as his upcoming fraud trial should be, too), who wants to bet we'll hear about it at tonight's debate? And if Trump's response is to mutter something about complications and post-nomination "determinations," will anyone else on stage be willing to call him out, aggressively?