Romney says he may release tax returns
But not until April, if then, and the multimillionaire former businessman is not getting much gratitude from his rivals for his grudging change of heart.
“If there’s nothing there, why is he waiting till April?” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told reporters.
Romney seemed hesitant when confronted about the tax returns in a Republican debate Monday night, first sidestepping calls from his rivals to release his records, then acknowledging later that he’d follow the lead of previous presidential candidates.
“ I have nothing in them that suggests there’s any problem and I’m happy to do so,” he said. “I sort of feel like we’re showing a lot of exposure at this point,” he added.
Romney, the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination after back-to-back wins in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, was under fire from Gingrich and fellow GOP rivals Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum in Monday night’s debate as they sought to knock him off stride.
The five will meet again in debate in Charleston Thursday night, the last time they will share a stage before Saturday’s South Carolina primary.
The first Southern primary could prove decisive in the volatile contest. Gingrich has virtually conceded that a victory for Romney in South Carolina would assure his nomination as Democratic President Barack Obama’s Republican rival in the fall, and none of the other remaining contenders has challenged that conclusion.
That only elevated the stakes for Monday night’s debate. It was feisty from the outset, with the attacks on Romney often couched in anti-Obama rhetoric.
“We need to satisfy the country that whoever we nominate has a record that can stand up to Barack Obama in a very effective way,” said Gingrich.
The five men on stage also sought to outdo one another in calling for lower taxes. Paul won that competition handily, saying he thought the top personal tax rate should be zero.
In South Carolina, a state with a heavy military presence, the tone turned muscular at times.
Gingrich drew strong applause when he said: “Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear idea about America’s enemies. Kill them.”
Perry also won favor from the crowd when he said the Obama administration had overreacted in its criticism of the Marines who were videotaped urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
Gingrich and Perry led the assault against Romney’s record at Bain Capital, a private equity firm that bought companies and sought to remake them into more competitive enterprises, with uneven results.
“There was a pattern in some companies ... of leaving them with enormous debt and then within a year or two or three having them go broke,” Gingrich said. “I think that’s something he ought to answer.”
Perry referred to a steel mill in Georgetown, S.C., where, he said, “Bain swept in, they picked that company over and a lot of people lost jobs there.”
Romney said the steel industry was battered by unfair competition from China. As for other firms, he said, “Four of the companies that we invested in ... ended up today having some 120,000 jobs.” And he acknowledged, “Some of the businesses we invested in were not successful and lost jobs.”
It was Perry who challenged Romney to release his income tax returns. The Texas governor said he has already done so, and Gingrich has said he will do likewise later in the week.
“ Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax so the people of this country can see how you made your money. ... We cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now,” Perry said.
Later, a debate moderator pressed Romney on releasing his tax returns. His response meandered.
“If that’s been the tradition I’m not opposed to doing that,” Romney said. “Time will tell. But I anticipate that most likely I’m going to get asked to do that in the April time period and I’ll keep that open.”
Prodded again, he said, “If I become our nominee ... what’s happened in history is people have released them in about April of the coming year, and that’s probably what I’d do.”