Romney’s Tax Returns: A Republican Trump Card?

Did he [Romney] take unusual steps to avoid paying his fair share? Who knows? He refuses to release enough of his tax returns to give a clear picture of his finances.

– Rep. James Clyburn

Never in modern American history has a presidential candidate tried so hard to hide himself from the people he hopes to serve. […] [W]e can only imagine what new secrets would be revealed if he showed the American people a dozen years of tax returns—like his father did.

– Sen. Harry Reid

This summer, Democrats have continually pounded Mitt Romney for refusing to release more of his tax returns. And last week at the Democratic National Convention, the criticisms continued to snowball. Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland went so far as to say: “And on [Mitt Romney’s] tax returns, he’s hiding. You know, you have to wonder just what is so embarrassing that he’s going to such great lengths to bury the truth.”

The point of the Democratic criticisms is to paint Mitt Romney as a plutocrat—a Gordon Gekko character who doesn’t pay his fair share of taxes.

Nonetheless, I have a theory: Might it be possible that Mitt Romney actually wants Democrats to keep focusing on his tax returns?

Maybe Romney actually wants left-wing PACs to burn millions on TV commercials attacking his tax returns. Maybe Romney actually wants the Democrats to spend most of August, September, and October speculating on his exploitation of the Internal Revenue Code. Maybe Romney actually wants to lure President Obama into staking his credibility on the idea that Romney is a tax dodger.

Imagine all that. Then suppose that in the last week of October, Romney finally releases his tax returns. What if the record shows that Romney—far from underpaying his taxes—actually overpaid them? What if the deductions records reveal Romney to have donated the bulk of his income to children’s cancer foundations, Habitat for Humanity, Girl Scout cookies, the Mormon Church, and surgery for babies with cleft palates?

In that scenario, an entire Democratic season of anti-Bain attack ads would backfire. And Romney’s public image would be transformed. Far from being a greedy capitalist, he would be a paragon of charitable virtue. A humble philanthropist unwillingly forced to reveal his generosity by a bunch of conniving Democrats.

It would be one heck of an October surprise. It could lead to a two-point swing that delivers Florida and Ohio for the GOP in a close election.

Best of all, Romney would have planned it all along.

Look, Mitt Romney is a smart person. He earned two Harvard degrees, built a multibillion-dollar firm, and saved the Salt Lake City Olympics. He knows that his every action will be scrutinized. He pays his advisers millions for sophisticated political advice. And he has been running for President for over eight years. Does anyone really think that Romney would have made the beginner’s mistake of underpaying his taxes?

But what about Romney’s disclosure of his 2010 tax return, the one showing the 13.9% tax rate? Would that return imply that Romney paid a similarly-low tax rate in other years?

Absolutely not. The 2010 tax return was the only one that Romney chose to reveal. It tells us absolutely nothing about his other years’ returns. For all we know, the 2010 return could be a deliberate anomaly. A special piece of bait.

Card players know this instinctively. Your opponent might play a 2 in one round, but his remaining cards could well be queens, kings, and aces

It is almost never a good idea to stake your future on something on which your opponent knows everything and you know nothing. Think about what happened to the Trojans, who dragged an unfamiliar Greek wooden horse into the heart of their city.

Democrats take a big risk by making a political issue of Romney’s tax returns. For all we know, Romney’s refusal to release more tax returns might be a brilliant masterstroke designed to lure unsuspecting donkeys into an elephant trap.

Chris Seck is a 3L. His column runs on Wednesdays.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.

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