Somewhere, Newt Gingrich is laughing. Sure, we made fun of him during the primaries. And we cheered when Mitt Romney poured in the big bucks and crushed him like a bug.
But today Newt's got the last laugh. Because all those questions he raised about Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary have now come back to haunt the Republican nominee.
Obama, who first raised the issues surrounding Romney's inordinate wealth: What was his role at Bain Capital? How could he justify shutting down businesses and shipping jobs overseas? And why won't Romney release his tax returns?
It's no surprise that those questions have resurfaced today. What is surprising, indeed stunning, is that the Romney campaign has proven itself so inept in responding to them.
Take Romney's tenure at Bain Capital. For the last year, Romney has claimed he walked away from his position as CEO of Bain in 1999, when he left to rescue the Salt Lake City Olympics. But good investigative reporting by David Corn of Mother Jones and other reporters uncovered documents filed by Romney and Bain with the Securities and Exchange Commission listing him as CEO, chairman and sole owner of Bain for three more years, until 2002.
The Romney campaign still insists Romney left Bain in 1999. But, every day, more evidence to the contrary emerges. For example, on February 12, 1999, the Boston Herald reported: "Romney said he will stay on as a part-timer with Bain, providing input on investment and key personnel decisions." As reported by Huffington Post, in sworn testimony to prove his Massachusetts residency while preparing to run for governor in 2002, Romney said he regularly returned to the state for "social trips and business trips," including board meetings at Bain. HuffPo also unearthed a California filing listing Romney as one of four general partners of Bain Capital Partners until 2003.
Is this question important? Absolutely! Because if, indeed, Romney was actively involved with Bain through 2002, he can no longer deny any role in companies bought and shut down by Bain from 1999 to 2002. One such firm, reports Sam Stein of Huffington Post, was DDi Corp., a California-based circuit board maker on which Bain made more than $100 million in profits before the company filed for bankruptcy.
Again, the Romney campaign knew this was coming. They've made Romney's leadership of Bain the cornerstone of his qualifications for president. Why weren't they ready with an answer about when he actually left the company? And, even more puzzling, why do they keep tying themselves in knots over his tax returns?
This isn't rocket science. The law does not require presidential candidates to release their tax returns. But ever since 1952, when vice-presidential candidate Richard Nixon baited Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson into making his tax filings public, most candidates for president have done so. Ironically, it was Romney's father, George Romney, who set the bar in 1968 by voluntarily releasing 12 years of returns, explaining to reporters that "one year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show." In 1996, Republican Bob Dole released 30 years of tax returns. Both Barack Obama and Joe Biden have already made public 12 years.
Yet, despite pleas from Haley Barbour, Michael Steele, Ron Paul, George Will, Rick Perry and other leading Republicans to put the issue behind him by full disclosure, Romney has dug in his heels, refusing so far to release more than his 2010 returns -- with a promise to release 2011 returns, once they are filed.
Some other candidate might be able to get away with that. But not Mitt Romney. Not a candidate with a Swiss bank account, offshore tax havens in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, and a wife with a dressage horse. His refusal only raises the question of "What does Mitt have to hide?" We know he paid less than 15 percent in taxes on $43 million in income over the last two years. Were there years when he paid no taxes at all?
Other than Mitt, only John McCain knows. In his eagerness to be McCain's running mate in 2008, Romney provided him with 23 years of tax returns. What did McCain discover that helped him decide Sarah Palin, of all people, would be a better candidate?
Poor Mitt. It's only July. But somewhere Newt Gingrich is laughing. And already Republicans everywhere are having a bad case of buyer's remorse.
(Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show, the host of "Full Court Press" on Current TV and the author of a new book, "The Obama Hate Machine," which is available in bookstores now. You can hear "The Bill Press Show" at his website: billpressshow.com. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.)