Breach In Romney's Line

There was a small, but potentially significant development in the Mitt Romney tax return story yesterday, and to help explain its potential significance I have written a little play for you about a guy and his girlfriend:

Girlfriend: Where were you last night?

 Guy: I'm not going to tell you, it's a private matter.

Girlfriend: Did you go to the casino?

Guy: No -- I promised you I gave up gambling.

Girlfriend: Were you getting high with Justin?!?

Guy: I haven't seen Justin in a month.

Girlfriend: You were out with Melanie, weren't you!!!

Guy: No! Absolutely not.

Girlfriend: Were you at a strip club?

Guy:  I'm not going to tell you, it's a private matter.

Girlfriend: Aha!!!

I hope you enjoyed this little vignette. (I'm thinking America Ferrera for the female lead, what do you think?) 

The lesson of this tale is not unknown to veteran political pros -- and not just because they like to frequent strip clubs. From time to time, pols have to deal with stories that have engaged tremendous inquiry and speculation. Perhaps he or she has erroneously claimed to have Cherokee heritage; or been in a mysterious early-morning car crash; or e-mailed a crotch photo to someone.

The strategy to deal with this is often to draw a firm line -- provide all information and answer all questions on one side of that line, and declare everything on the other side off limits, because it's a "private family matter," or "not relevant to the voters," or "information not known or available to us," or whatever.

Then you take whatever damage you take from it, but you try your best to hold that goddamn line.

The Romney campaign, of course, has drawn a line at the candidate's 2010 tax information. His tax returns before that, they say, are private and off limits.

That line was breached yesterday, when Romney press secretary Andrea Saul refuted speculation that there may have been years when Romney paid no taxes at all.

It's a small breach, but it is a concession that there are matters in those tax returns for which the voters' need for information trumps the candidate's desire for privacy. From now on, when refusing to respond to inquiry and speculation, the campaign is no longer holding the line, but arbitrating which bits of information rise to that need-to-know level.

You saw in my little play how well that worked out for Guy. (I'm picturing a younger Matthew Perry type -- do you think Jim Parsons could pull it off?)

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