By Brent Budowsky - 01/04/12 05:16 PM EST
While the Republican establishment seeks to coronate Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee and crush any hope of conservatives having a nominee they can believe in, the next great issue of the presidential campaign will be a growing demand that Mitt Romney release his tax returns.
Romney has been (as usual) evasive on the subject of his taxes. He has publicly said that if nominated, he would consider releasing his returns. He has also said that he would not be reluctant to take advantage of legal and appropriate moves to minimize his tax liability.
The second political question, which should be of paramount concern to all Republicans, is this: If Romney does not release his tax returns before the conventions, the Obama attack machine will launch a full-blast attack that could well be devastating to Romney and Republicans.
Why doesn't Romney disclose his tax returns now? Why keep them secret?
At a moment in American history when there is widespread public backlash against unequal and unfair economic disparities, could it be that Romney, who stands at the high point of the 1 percent at the economic summit, might be viewed as not paying his fair share of taxes? This is certainty possible.
There is a second and even more ominous reason Romney might be keeping his tax returns under wraps.
Could the Romney tax returns reveal how much personal wealth Romney enjoys from business dealings in which he was responsible for mass layoffs of workers? This, too, is certainly plausible. It could be devastating if the returns quantify whether, and if so, how much, Romney might be fairly accused of achieving wealth as a "job destroyer.”
There is no question that President Obama and his campaign machine will use Romney's business dealings, especially layoffs that were imposed by his deals, as a major campaign issue. When Romney ran against the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Kennedy used this information to devastating effect.
In the general-election campaign of 2012, Obama would certainly push hard for release of the Romney tax returns. If there is politically harmful information in those returns, the result could be devastating in the fall campaign.
Ron Paul and Rick Santorum could strongly raise the Romney tax issue right now, before New Hampshire votes. All Republicans would be well-advised to push for disclosure today, to avoid devastating disclosures in the weeks before the general election.
It is strange to watch the Republican establishment circle the wagons to try to coronate Romney before the primaries even begin.
Mitt Romney's Iowa victory was not strong. It was weak. After spending huge amounts of money during six years of campaigning for president, Romney ended up tied with a candidate who spent virtually no money. Seventy-five percent of Iowa GOP voters opposed him. The national conservative base is unhappy with him.
My bet is the coronation of Mitt Romney is premature in any event. Romney is the perfect foil for the president's reelection strategy. He is the ultimate Republican to make any Democrat look populist at a moment in history when populism is rising. He is the ultimate Republican who is identified with the 1 percent at a moment when Democrats champion the 99 percent.
Mitt Romney is very vulnerable to being attacked as a job destroyer. Keeping his tax returns secret is a losing political issue. What is so threatening to Romney that he insists on keeping them under wraps?
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.