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Mitt’s Self-Induced Tax Mess

The last time Mitt Romney’s tax returns were a hot topic, in January, Romney compounded the problem by dithering and affecting indignation. This self-defeating nonstrategy justly earned him a round of boos during the South Carolina primary debate:

When he finally released his 2010 returns, plus an estimate for 2011, the media’s immediate focus was trained on the comparatively low tax rate on the Romneys’ investment income. Subsequently, it has shifted to the shady (or is it sunny?) world of tax avoidance and offshore finance.

Romney’s refusal to release any more returns — unusual by the standards of modern presidential campaigns — has stoked the worst sort of speculation: What’s he hiding?

Former Obama aide and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel noted with glee on ABC’s This Week

He has only released one year; to the McCain campaign he released 23 years. And he’s telling the people, “I’m not going to give you what I gave John McCain’s people in 2008.” And when he gave them 23 years, John McCain’s campaign looked at it and went, “Let’s go with Sarah Palin.” So whatever’s in there is far worse than just the first year.”

Emanuel’s implication is almost certainly false. (Brian Beutler plays the Steve Schmidt angle, assuming the former McCain campaign chief knows all the sordid details.) The idea that McCain’s staff meticulously pored over 23 years’ worth of Romney tax returns strikes me as absurd. They barely vetted the person they did choose! The semi-authoritative story I heard from the inside was that, his first choice (Sen. Joe Lieberman) having been overruled, McCain barked, “All right,  f***ers, give me the list of the women!” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s name was floated briefly, but, in desperate need of an infusion of zeal and excitement, McCain ultimately settled on the farcical Palin.

The point is, McCain probably never strongly considered Romney as a running mate.

Now, it could be that Emanuel is still right about what’s lurking in those returns.

I’m obviously in no position to know.

But let’s assume that additional tax returns would show more of what we’ve seen from the 2010-11 snapshot: many millions of dollars in offshore tax havens, but nothing, strictly speaking, illegal.

If that’s the case, then Romney has essentially shot himself in the foot not once, but twice.

One marvels at the ineptitude of someone who’s supposedly such a sure-footed manager.

about the author

Scott Galupo is a freelance writer living in Arlington, Va. In addition to contributing to The American Conservative, he writes for TheWeek.com and reviews live music for The Washington Post. He was formerly a staff writer for The Washington Times and worked on Capitol Hill. He lives with his wife and two children and writes about politics to support his guitar habit.

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