Pressure is building for Mitt Romney to release more tax returns than he already has released. The Wall Street Journal runs an op-ed today Joseph Thorndike, an employee of the tax-exempt Tax Analysts, calling on Mr. Romney to put out more returns. USA Today has an editorial calling for Mr. Romney to release more returns, and even the right-leaning National Review advised in an editorial, "he should release them."
I disagree with the National Review editorial and with the other voices calling on Mr. Romney to put out more returns. Here are three reasons why it would be a bad idea.
First, releasing the returns would open the door to a week, or maybe more, of press attention to Mr. Romney's personal finances. Mr. Romney wants the campaign to be about President Obama's performance, ideology, and mishandling of the economy. He wants the election to be a referendum on the failed policies of the incumbent. Releasing the tax returns doesn't help advance that narrative; instead, it creates a distraction from it.
Second, to be a successful president Mr. Romney is sometimes going to have to resist demands from so-called good-government types, political opponents, and newspaper editorial writers. President Clinton acceded to demands to appoint a special counsel for Whitewater and it sapped the boldness of his presidency. President George W. Bush resisted demands to retreat from Iraq and it led to a better outcome there for both Iraq and America than probably would have been achieved if there had been a hasty withdrawal. A politician who caves under pressure merely invites more pressure to cave on more things. A lot of Americans are looking for a president who will stand up to the self-righteous commentariat.
Third, a basic principle of negotiation is that you don't give up something for nothing. If Mr. Romney is going to surrender his tax returns without extracting some concession from the other side in response, imagine how he would behave in a trade negotiation with the Chinese, or a nuclear arms negotiation with the Iranians or the Russians. If Mr. Romney is going to put out tax returns, let him do so in exchange for President Obama's academic records, or the Fast and Furious documents, or the Rashid Khalidi tape, or all of the other documents that, as Joel Pollak points out, Mr. Obama is withholding.