Mitt Romney is getting politically bludgeoned over not releasing his tax records. There’s no rational reason for him to let the Obama campaign continue to destroy him over his taxes, so whatever he’s concealing must be terribly damaging, maybe even existentially damaging to his candidacy. Matt Yglesias has an intriguing guess–that Romney took advantage of the 2009 amnesty that allowed Americans hiding funds in Swiss accounts to declare with the IRS and avoid prosecution:
Romney might well have thought in 2007 and 2008 that there was nothing to fear about a non-disclosed offshore account he’d set up years earlier precisely because it wasn’t disclosed. But then came the settlement and the rush of non-disclosers to apply for the amnesty. Failing to apply for the amnesty and then getting charged by the IRS would have been both financially and politically disastrous. So amnesty it was. But even though the amnesty would eliminate any legal or financial liability for past acts, it would hardly eliminate political liability.
A typical response to that might be “but how could he think he could run for office and not have that destroy his candidacy?” That’s what someone would do if he were a rational actor honestly engaged in a realistic assessment of the likely consequences of his actions. But that’s not how things always work. There are a couple recent and staggering examples of candidates deluding themselves that their secrets wouldn’t be exposed.
In 2004 the Republicans thought they had a terrific candidate for the open Senate seat being vacated by Illinois Republican Peter Fitzgerald. Jack Ryan was a handsome, articulate native of suburban Chicago. After Dartmouth–and like Romney–he earned a law degree and an MBA from Harvard, and then went in to finance. After amassing wealth in the hundreds of millions, he quit his position at Goldman Sachs and taught at a Catholic high school in Chicago. He was articulate, handsome, and the Republicans thought he was a strong candidate.
Ryan’s problem was the damaging information he believed wouldn’t become public. The records of Ryan’s divorce from the actress Jeri Ryan were sealed. Ryan assured Republican leaders that there was nothing damaging in the file, but he nevertheless fought to keep them sealed. The Chicago Tribune and a local TV station went to court to get them released, and once the judge granted their request Ryan’s candidacy was done:
In her 2000 filing, Jeri Ryan alleged that after she and Jack Ryan left the first sex club they entered in New York, he asked her to go to another. She said he told her that he had gone out to dinner with her that night even though he didn’t want to and “the least I could do in return was go to the club he wanted me to go.”
She described the second place as “a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling.”
“Respondent wanted me to have sex with him there with another couple watching. I refused,” Jeri Ryan continued. “Respondent asked me to perform a sexual activity upon him and he specifically asked other people to watch. I was very upset.
“We left the club and respondent apologized, said that I was right and he would never insist that I go to a club again. He promised it was out of his system.”
But later, Jeri Ryan said, Jack Ryan took her to Paris where he again took her to a sex club without first telling her where they were going.
“I told him I thought it was out of his system. I told him he had promised me we would never go. People were having sex everywhere. I cried. I was physically ill. Respondent became very upset with me and said it was not a `turn-on’ for me to cry.
Jack Ryan was a Phi Beta Kappa Ivy grad w a JD and MBA from Harvard who made hundreds of millions of dollars and considered a formidable candidate for US Senate. He was far from stupid. But he was delusional enough to think stories of his sex club escapades couldn’t sink his political career.
The other recent case of someone believing he could conceal instantly disqualifying details about his personal affairs is, of course, John Edwards. It was delusional of Edwards to think he could run for president hide that he was a cad to his wife and went to absurd and allegedly illegal lengths to keep the affair hidden from the public.
Whatever Mitt Romney is concealing is almost certainly not sexually tawdry like the revelations that ended the candidacies and political careers of Ryan and Edwards. But he could have financial or legal problems that are just as politically disastrous. If he’s not concealing something catastrophic, one has to wonder why the heck Romney won’t just release his taxes and put an end to Obama’s relentless pummeling. But as the examples of Ryan and Edwards demonstrate, it’s not far-fetched that Romney believes he can be elected yet is concealing information that will eventually become public, and which will end his candidacy. And if that happens, man, a whole lot of Republicans will wish Romney had retired from politics retroactive to before this presidential campaign.
****UPDATED JULY 18****
From the Huffington Post:
Mitt Romney has been determined to resist releasing his tax returns at least since his bid for Massachusetts governor in 2002 and has been confident that he will never be forced to do so, several current and former Bain executives tell The Huffington Post. Had he thought otherwise, say the sources based on their longtime understanding of Romney, he never would have gone forward with his run for president.
Romney may believe that what his tax returns will expose will make him unelectable. But it is hard to imagine Romney can avoid a landslide loss if he refuses to release them. If this report is accurate, it’s strong evidence that Romney is as delusional as were Ryan and Edwards. And it would make a trifecta of deluded candidates whose last campaign was against Barack Obama.