I begin with Iraq in early 2003, before we attacked and invaded the country. Almost everyone accepted the argument that it had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). It began with a simple premise—Saddam Hussein refused to admit international inspectors into his country—and ended with a simple inference—obviously, he did so because he had to keep them from finding his WMDs. I did not accept the argument, and, some time before the war began, I put my disbelief in writing to friends with whom I corresponded about national security matters. Six months or so after we failed to find WMDs, analysts discovered what I had argued: Saddam had to fake that he had WMDs because only the threat that he possessed them deterred his enemies both foreign and domestic. He gambled on this bluff and lost.
I move on to Willard Mitt Romney and his refusal to disclose his tax returns and his business records with Bain Capital. Unlike Saddam, Romney really does have something to hide. His tax returns will reveal enormous amounts of money, probably an aggregate far greater than $250 million, obtained and deposited in various dubious, but certainly, legal tax-avoiding ways. Romney will turn out to be a clever and crafty but unscrupulous moneymaker without regard for doing his share for his country. Likewise, his business records will show him significantly involved in out-sourcing jobs as well as off-shoring money during the period in which he has repeatedly claimed inactivity in Bain Capital’s affairs. Either one would do lasting damaging to his campaign because it would fulfill the depiction of him as a businessman gaming the system in his interest but against America’s.
Although continued concealment of his tax returns and business records is proving damaging Romney is refusing the advice of many Republican wise men to disclose them. Republican apologists try to suggest that the Democrats would never be satisfied with any number of tax returns. I can think of two obvious numbers: either the number his father released (12?) or, better, the number he released to McCain (22?). As for his business records, he should release all those for the years in which he was Bain’s leader, real or nominal.
The question is why Romney is stonewalling that advice. My hunch—call it the Nixon hypothesis, if you want—is that he knows that disclosure at any time will be damaging. I note that McCain has not said that he has seen Romney’s tax returns and that they contain nothing discreditable. McCain’s silence on this subject is some evidence of damaging information in them. And his recent claim that Palin was a better candidate than Romney seems to be a signal of disaffection with Romney, if not a warning.
Romney’s strategy has boxed him in. Disclosure before the end-of-August Republican convention would make the convention unhappy, possibly to the point of denying him the nomination. After all, Republicans do not like him, and disclosure might lead them to believe that he cannot even defeat Obama on account of the discrediting information in those documents. Without the nomination, of course, he cannot win the election. But once he secures it, he can hope either to continue concealment and overcome the resulting Democratic criticism, Independent doubts, and Republican discomfort; or to make a disclosure and count on continued anti-Obama sentiment to retain support from Republicans, especially Tea Party members. The latter hope is a long shot, for they would then realize that they had been snookered by a wheeler-dealer, would probably respond with the anger at the betrayal, and would not vote in his favor in the necessary numbers—which is how Nixon’s strategy played out and led to impeachment.
Whatever Romney does now, he has lost the election, even if he wins the nomination.