By Francis Wilkinson
From the very start of the Republican presidential contest last year, Mitt Romney was the most disciplined, best prepared and most articulate of the candidates. He experienced no loopy Michele Bachmann moments. He advocated no empty Herman Cain slogans. He had no Rick Perry bouts of stupefying ignorance or cringe-inducing "oops."
Romney's debate answers are sometimes astonishingly crisp. His stump speech rarely veers off message (and his message itself is usually on target). He has run such a highly professional campaign, and with such personal precision, that he is sometimes accused of being an automaton. I googled "Mitt Romney robot" this morning and got 2,170,000 responses.
Yet when the subject turned recently to his personal income taxes, Romney turned to rhetorical mush. This doesn't mean that Romney has something nefarious to hide, but it probably does mean that he has something he wants to hide. The chances that Romney was unprepared in last night's debate for a question on his taxes are somewhat less than zero. For whatever reason, the question presents a psychological hurdle for Romney, causing him visible discomfort. His meandering response to what should have been a simple, scripted answer is below, courtesy of the CNN transcript.
MR. KING: All right. Governor Romney, when will we see [your tax returns]?
MR. ROMNEY: When my taxes are complete for this year. And I know that if I'm the nominee the president's going to want to insist that I show what my income was this last year and so forth. When they're completed this year in April I'll release my returns in April, and probably for other years as well.
And I know that's what's going to come. Every time the Democrats are out there trying their very best to -- to try and attack people because they've been successful, and I -- and I have been successful. But let me tell you, the -- the -- the challenge in America is not people who have been successful. The challenge in America -- and President Obama doesn't want to talk about this -- is you got a president who's played 90 rounds of golf while there are 25 million Americans out of work. And -- and -- (cheers, applause) -- and you've got -- and -- and while the price of gasoline has doubled, he said no to the Keystone pipeline. And while we've got 15 trillion (dollars) of debt, he said, look, I'm going to put another trillion of debt for "Obamacare." That's the problem in America, not the attacks they make on people who have been successful.
MR. KING: But some of the questions about when you'll release your taxes have not come -- the president has raised them -- his campaign has raised them, you're right on that. But so have some of your rivals up here. Speaker Gingrich has said you owe them to the people of South Carolina before they vote. Governor Perry made that point as well before he left the race. Why not should the people of South Carolina before this election see last year's return? (Cheers, applause.)
MR. ROMNEY: Because I want to make sure that I beat President Obama. And every time we release things drip by drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks. As -- as has been done in the past, if I'm the nominee, I'll put these out at one time so we have one discussion of all of this. I obviously pay all full taxes. I'm honest in my dealings with people. People understand that. (Applause.) My taxes are carefully managed. And I pay a lot of taxes. I've been very successful. And I -- when I have our -- our taxes ready for this year, I'll release them. (Applause.)
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)
-0- Jan/20/2012 15:39 GMT