Mitt Romney thought he could resolve the controversy surrounding his hidden tax returns once and for all on Friday. Romney, who has released his 2010 returns and promises to eventually release the 2011 materials, declared on CNN, "[T]hat's what we're going to put out.... Those are the two years that people are going to have."
The firm rejection of additional disclosure was apparently intended to shut down the discussion altogether. It appears that no one, not even his own allies, found this persuasive. Indeed, instead of settling the issue, Romney appears to have made it worse.
Yesterday on Fox News, for example, Bill Kristol presented Romney with some advice: "Here is what he should do: he should release the tax returns tomorrow. It's crazy. You've got to release 6, 8, 10 years of back tax returns."
If it were just Kristol, Romney might have an easier time defending his secrecy, but Kristol is just the beginning. George Will said yesterday that Romney "must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them." Republican strategist Matthew Dowd added "there's obviously something there" in Romney's returns that he doesn't want voters to see.
Republican strategist John Weaver said, "Stop demanding an apology, release your tax returns." Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) added, "I think he ought to release everything. I believe in total transparency. You know if you have things to hide, then you may be doing things wrong."
Keep in mind, those quotes are just from the weekend, and don't include the many Republicans, including top Romney allies, who've been saying the same thing for a while: release the damn returns.
And here's the real kicker: what's Romney's explanation to defend the lack of disclosure? He doesn't have one.
After months of questions about why he won't release the tax returns, Romney's only attempt at an explanation came Friday, when he said additional disclosure isn't "necessary." Neither he nor his aides have managed to come up with a more compelling spin to justify the secrecy
Given the increasingly-serious questions about his Bain background, offshore finances, controversial investments, unanswered questions about his individual retirement account that somehow ended up with more than $100 million, and claims about his business that contradict SEC filings, releasing these materials would go a long way in helping Romney move past the controversies.
But he still refuses. Romney was willing to turn over 23 years of tax returns to John McCain's campaign team four years ago, but he doesn't want American voters to see what McCain saw.
Also note, the Romney campaign argued yesterday that if John Kerry only released two years' worth of tax returns, it's acceptable that Romney do the same. The problem with this argument is that it's a lie -- during the 2004 race, voters had access to Kerry's tax returns for the previous 20 years. If Romney wants to meet Kerry's standard for disclosure, he has a long way to go.
And finally, let's also not forget that when President Obama sends the Senate a nominee for a cabinet post, Senate Republicans require the nominee turn over at least three years' worth of tax returns. By Senate GOP standards, Romney wouldn't even be eligible for a confirmation hearing.