Harry Reid dropped a pipe bomb into Mitt Romney's campaign last week when he claimed, based on, as he described it, an "extremely reliable source," that Romney paid no taxes for 10 years. His allegation was subsequently confirmed by CNN reporter Dana Bash, but that did not stop the GOP establishment from having a collective conniption about Reid's claim. Romney oddly told Reid to "put up or shut up" - that is, reveal his source - which struck most thinking people as silly when the alternative, having Romney just release his tax returns, was the far more logical solution. The chairman of the RNC, Reince Preibus, called Reid a "dirty liar," and Senator Lindsey Graham went with the more pedestrian "liar." Journalists hopped on Reid's statement, criticizing its lack of sourcing while admiring the sheer political audacity of what he did.
And Reid? He's doubling down, daring Romney to release his tax returns to put the matter to rest. Moreover, Reid has simultaneously re-raised the issue of Romney's failure to make his tax returns public and handed political bobble heads a ready made story to beat to a pulp. And the best part? The whole story is a no lose for Reid unless Romney actually DOES release his tax returns and those returns show that he paid a meaningful tax rate (i.e., 35% "top" rate) because anything in the neighborhood of what Romney paid in 2010 (13.9%) will just reinforce the idea that he takes advantage of the tax code and anything below that will be even worse.
Once journalists dig into the information, no one will remember or report on what Reid said. If Romney releases his returns, he will open himself up to a full vetting of those documents, where little jewels like the $77,000 tax deduction he and his wife took on their dressage horse surely lurk. Some have speculated he may have also repatriated money from offshore Swiss Bank accounts in 2009 in order to take advantage of a one-time "amnesty" offered by the IRS. Of course, the worst case scenario would be if Reid turned out to be telling the truth - in fact, if any year showed that Romney was able to avoid paying taxes altogether through deductions, transfers of money into tax-exempt vehicles and other financial chicanery, the damage to his candidacy would be irreparable. Indeed, the fact that Romney is willing to take so much flack about NOT releasing his taxes instead of just releasing them tells you all you need to know about what those returns contain.
Finally, Republican faux outrage over Reid's claim is rich indeed. After all, Sarah Palin claimed Obama "palled around with terrorists" as the Vice Presidential nominee of her party, Joe Wilson called Obama a liar during a speech the President gave to a joint session of Congress, a federal judge forwarded an email alleging that the President was the offspring of a human mother and canine father and Tea Party members protested in Washington carrying posters and photos of the President as a witch doctor, Hitler and the Joker from Batman. That all of this is acceptable at the same time Reid's allegation is somehow a heresy merely highlights the hypocrisy of Republicans, and the reaction it has engendered speaks to the fear Republicans have that they are about to nominate a fatally flawed candidate.