Is Mitt Romney's handling of the controversy surrounding the release of his tax returns an example of how he will lead America on even more complex matters if he is elected to the White House? Is Romney's fumbling of the Bain Capital outsourcing issue an example of how out of touch he is with real America?
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, has refused to release more than two years of his tax returns, even in the face of withering criticism from within his own party. Most observers doubt that his earlier returns will show something illegal. It is more likely that there may be something embarrassing. Romney has admitted as much himself in an interview with the conservative National Review, saying, "I'm simply not enthusiastic about giving them hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort and lie about."
So despite a fundraising advantage, fueled in part by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, and a sluggish economy, Romney finds himself on the defensive. The candidate and his supporters are now ratcheting up the negative attacks to a whole new level. But will desperate and outlandish charges offset Romney's weaknesses?
While campaigning in Ohio, Romney told a crowd of supporters that in the past six months President Obama has held more than 100 fundraisers and no meetings with his jobs council. Of course, the president deals with the economy every day, and his election-year fundraising efforts are not unusual -- it's the American way.
Earlier in the week, Romney attacked President Obama for not understanding how the American economy works. He stated the president said Steve Jobs didn't create Apple, Henry Ford didn't create Ford, and Papa John's was not created by, well, Papa John.
The president actually did say:
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
His point was that there is an infrastructure in place in this country to help people become successful.
But the comment was muddled just enough to give the Republican attack dogs something to chew on. Romney surrogate and former New Hampshire governor John Sununu said President Obama "needs to learn how to be an American." He later backpedaled a bit -- "What I thought I said but I guess I didn't say is that the president has to learn ... the American formula for creating business is not to have the government create business."
But Sununu wasn't through there. "He has no idea how the American system functions, and we shouldn't be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, another set of years in Indonesia," he said on Fox News.
These comments followed shortly after those spewed by America's leading conservative Republican, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. "I think it can now be said, without equivocation -- without equivocation -- that this man hates this country," Limbaugh forcefully spouted, "He is trying -- Barack Obama is trying -- to dismantle, brick by brick, the American Dream." His explanation, "He was indoctrinated as a child. His father was a communist. His mother was a leftist. He was sent to prep and Ivy League schools where his contempt for the country was reinforced." (But Romney went to prep and Ivy League schools, too?)
Many Republicans continue to paint President Obama as a foreigner, a radical socialist and un-American. There is still a concerted effort by some to claim the president's birth certificate is fraudulent. For sure, all of this energizes the extreme base of the party. But it reflects a strategy laid down by leading party members on the day President Obama was sworn in. Block, obfuscate, denounce and delay in Congress. In Senator McConnell's words, do whatever it takes to make Barack Obama a one-term president.
But now the Republicans are in a pickle. They held the most divisive presidential primary in decades and a flawed candidate emerged at the top of the ticket. Romney was for abortion before he was against it. He was for some gun laws before he was against them. He was a moderate Republican before he became severely conservative. He was against negative political commercials before he used them to crush Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
Down deep inside true conservatives do not know if they can trust Mitt Romney. By not releasing his returns, Romney may seem less trustworthy to more and more undecided and independent Americans as well.
Maybe it's time for Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul to start warming up in the bullpen?