Mitt Romney's income tax returns may contain some surprises that he does not want the world to know about, but they are hardly his only secrets. His biggest secret, the question he has not answered through the entire campaign, the one that bothers conservatives even more than it irks liberals, is this: Does he believe in anything besides Mormonism and money?
He won in the Republican primaries because he did not hesitate to do whatever it took to destroy his opponents. Now, his campaign aides are saying, off the record, there is no limit to what they will do to beat Barack Obama. The Romney campaign will attack him for the shady friends he may have kept back in Chicago. They will ding him for smoking pot in high school. And, as demonstrated this week by one of Mr. Romney's surrogates, John Sununu, they will try to cast doubt on whether the president is a true American.
The one thing Mr. Romney did not do in the primaries and is not doing now is reveal what sort of president he wants to be. Oh, sure, he has put out position papers. Every day on the campaign trail he speaks in generalities about getting government out of the way of business. He is against apologizing for the USA in foreign affairs. But does anyone really know what his economic policy would be or how he would conduct himself as commander-in-chief?
Mr. Romney is an enigma. He has reversed the positions he took as governor of Massachusetts on gay rights, abortion, health care and immigration, yet his reversals are squishy enough to make many conservatives doubt the sincerity of his new convictions.
The one thing upon which he has stood firm is his refusal to let people paw through his tax records. He has released documents covering the last two years but resists releasing more because, he says, the Obama campaign will simply use the information against him. Yet it is not just Obama partisans and the media demanding full disclosure; it is the National Review, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and a long list of other Republican officeholders and conservative commentators. One of the few prominent figures on the right who is urging him to stand his ground is Rush Limbaugh (the same guy, by the way, who urged him to go after Mr. Obama's youthful indulgence in marijuana and supposed tenuous identity as an American).
The longer Mr. Romney keeps his tax forms secret, the more intense is the speculation about what he is hiding. Is he really richer than he has let on -- a billionaire, perhaps? Are there years in which he paid no taxes? Is there something so damning in the documents that he is willing to sustain the damage to his campaign caused by his failure to disclose?
The liberal activist group MoveOn.org has put up an attack ad in Ohio that compares Mr. Romney to Tricky Dick Nixon and uses the term "crook" in speculation about what nefarious activities might be recorded in Mitt's tax forms. That attack goes too far. In the same way, several liberal commentators went over the top by slamming Mr. Romney for saying the word "Obamacare" in a speech to the NAACP. The lefties insisted the use of the word in that venue was a coded appeal to white racists. That is a real stretch. Mr. Romney says "Obamacare" 20 times a day, and it would have been strangely calculating for him not to say it in front of a black audience.
No, there is no need to imagine Mr. Romney as a crook or a race baiter. That is not the secret he is hiding. It is likely something far simpler.
Mitt Romney is a very wealthy man with a family legacy in politics who thinks it would be nice to fulfill his father's dream of living in the White House. Perhaps, that is all there is to his candidacy. That is a secret he would want to keep.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun