There are a lot of bad things you can say about Rahm Emanuel (and I believe I've said most of them), but damn, the man is an effective surrogate! Like a pit bull, he grabs on and just won't let go. The Obama campaign smells blood in the water over Mitten's tax returns, and Rahm is the right man for the job of dirtying him up:
STEPHANOPOULOS: The campaign has also been pushing very hard for Mitt Romney to release more of his tax returns. He says the public has everything they need to know to understand his finances. And we do know that Mitt Romney made a lot of money. We know he paid a relatively low tax rate. What more will the returns tell us that we don't know?
EMANUEL: George, just two points here that I think are really important. First of all, Mitt Romney's own father said you shouldn't release one year. And already he has released -- in my view, he's released one year. Let's take a step on two points...
STEPHANOPOULOS: He says he's going to release his second.
EMANUEL: ... one on -- OK, transparency and what that says. He has released only one year. To the McCain campaign, he released 23 years. And he's telling the American people, I'm not going to give you what I've given John McCain's people in 2008. And when he gave them 23 years, John McCain's people looked at it and said, "Let's go with Sarah Palin." So whatever's in there is far worse than just the first year.
I've heard several surrogates use this line (including Martin O'Malley) and it's a good one.
You know, the campaign -- the Romney campaign isn't stupid. They have decided it is better to get attacked on lack of transparency, lack of accountability to the American people versus telling you what's in those taxes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So what do you think is in there?
EMANUEL: Because they're not enjoying this. And he can clear this up, just make it public.
Now the second thing, George, he did not just relatively -- he paid 14 percent, about half of what a middle-class family pays.
Second is, you've learned in just one year about the Caymans, about the Bahamas, about Luxembourg, and about Switzerland, all where his tax and different accounts are. His tax -- his tax filing looks more like the Olympic Village than it does like a middle-class family.
And then, third, next four years, the president of the United States is going to have tax reform, and you're going to have to debate it with Congress and shape it. And unless you have his taxes -- and I've seen this in the Oval Office, George -- there's going to be times in which a president of the United States has to make tradeoffs and choices. Will it be a middle-class family's desired to save to send their kid to college or protecting the loophole in the Cayman Islands? Will it be a middle-class family's desire to get a tax credit for a child and help raise him in a middle-class family, or will we protect the Bahamas, Luxembourg, and Switzerland?
From the rest of this week's show, it's clear that the Republicans are on the defensive. There's no question that there's something in there that Mittens doesn't want us to see.
On a political campaign, not only do you buy opposition research on your opponent, you also pay to have it done on yourself. And on just about every campaign, there's at least one thing in a candidate's background that could sink him or her. Judging from the clenched-teeth reaction of the Romney surrogates, it sounds like the Obama campaign has found it.
There may not be a smoking gun. It may just be that the sheer volume (it's not unusual for someone that wealthy to have a tax return that's 500+ pages) makes it more likely that there is. And I guarantee you that Romney doesn't even know most of what's in it, because when you're that wealthy, you have accountants and lawyers for that sort of thing. But since this is not the first time he's run, he should at least have an idea.
Senior campaign staff always games out this scenario in advance. "If they say this, we're going to say this." But responses that sound effective in a staff meeting don't always work in the free-fire zone of a high-profile campaign.