Mitt Romney: Republican 'friendly fire' grows over tax returns

Romney's refusal to release more tax returns is drawing sharper barbs from members of his own party. Could the vice presidential pick stem the criticism?

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    Demonstrators stand outside a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Baton Rouge, La.
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As Mitt Romney continues to fend off attacks from the Obama campaign, he’s facing a form of “friendly fire” that’s becoming less and less friendly.

Prominent Republicans have been voicing frustration with Mr. Romney for weeks now, over everything from his unwillingness to release more of his tax returns to what they see as his campaign’s flat-footedness in responding to Democratic attacks.

Strategic “advice” has been offered up on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and in a series of high-profile tweets from NewsCorp CEO Rupert Murdoch. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley have said publicly they thought Romney should release the tax returns.

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And lately, the hand-wringing has taken a more stinging turn.

On “Fox News Sunday” this week, Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol called Romney’s refusal to release more than two years of tax returns “crazy.” 

“He should release the tax returns tomorrow,” Mr. Kristol said. “You've got to release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns.”

Over on ABC’s “This Week,” conservative columnist George Will chimed in by observing that Romney was “losing at this point in a big way.” Mr. Will added: “I do not know why, given that Mitt Romney knew the day that McCain lost in 2008 that he was going to run for president again that he didn't get all of this out and tidy up some of his offshore accounts and all the rest.”

Former Bush strategist Matthew Dowd then twisted the knife further by actually speculating that there is something damaging in the tax returns: “There's obviously something there, because if there was nothing there, he would say, ‘Have at it,’” Mr. Dowd commented. “So there's obviously something there that compromises what he said in the past about something…. [I]f he had 20 years of great, clean, everything's fine, it'd all be out there.”

Yikes.

Some of these folks were conspicuously not in Romney’s corner during the GOP primary campaign. Mr. Will’s wife worked briefly on Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s ill-fated presidential bid, and Will was a fairly harsh critic of Romney throughout the primary season. Mr. Kristol was one of those calling for a new candidate to jump into the race even after it was pretty clear that the field was set.

But that doesn’t mean the comments won’t hurt.

Our question is whether there’s anything Romney can do at this point to appease these critics (aside from releasing the tax returns –which at this point, we suspect, won't even do it). Maybe include them all in some campaign strategy sessions? Launch a personal charm offensive? Write some checks? (Just kidding.)

Actually, his best solution might lie with his vice presidential pick. By tapping a running mate who excites those Republicans least excited about Romney himself, Romney might finally silence some of the naysayers who’ve been nipping at him.

So who gets the most thumbs up from the down-on-Romney Republicans? Will has given his stamp of approval to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Kristol also likes Congresssman Ryan, as well as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. (He likes Condoleezza Rice, too – though as we’ve written, we think that’s unlikely to happen.)

Of course, those are not the candidates most often cited as the true frontrunners (those would be Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty). Which means Romney may be about to disappoint his critics on the right again. Watch out for the knives.

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