‘He literally could not care less,’ a Reid confidante said. | Jay Westcott/POLITICO
Jon Stewart called Harry Reid “a really, really terrible person” for his unsubstantiated allegation that Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes for 10 years. Mitch McConnell said it was “beneath the dignity” of the majority leader’s office to make such a charge.
And conservative commentators are calling on Reid to put his money where his mouth is and release his own tax returns.
The ruthless Senate majority leader sees political gold in his attack on Romney — and he’s got the blessing from President Barack Obama’s campaign for the attack, even if he lacks evidence on Romney’s failure to pay taxes.
Reid has calculated that the frenzy created by his charge has accomplished exactly what he sought to do: Turn the focus back onto the GOP nominee’s unreleased tax returns, according to several people close to the leader and the campaign. For Reid, he’s got virtually nothing to lose: His approval ratings back home are still upside-down, and he may not even run for reelection when he’s up for a sixth term in 2016.
On top of that, his aides say, Reid genuinely believes his source — an old friend and longtime investor at Romney’s former company Bain Capital — who told the Senate majority leader a couple months back that the GOP nominee didn’t pay taxes for at least a decade.
Despite the uproar and the lack of additional evidence to present, Reid isn’t going to stop talking about Romney’s taxes.
“What’s the downside? Jon Stewart getting all serious and haughty? Harry Reid could not care less,” said one Reid confidante. “There is no one in politics with a thicker skin. He’s having the last laugh. Reid’s strategy is working. It’s filling news holes and driving conversations.”
One downside for Reid is that this could be the start of a poisonous relationship between the country’s two most powerful Mormon politicians, something that could make it profoundly more difficult to establish trust and cut deals in a narrowly divided Congress — if Romney wins the White House.
Asked if the Obama campaign agreed with Reid’s comments, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said: “Reflecting the growing number of questions Americans have about Mitt Romney’s finances, Sen. Reid rightfully pointed out that Gov. Romney has something to hide.”
In the short term, Romney has been forced to respond to Reid’s accusation, as he did in Reid’s backyard of Las Vegas on Friday, taking attention away from a mixed July jobs report and the GOP attacks on the president’s economic record.
“I have paid taxes every year, and a lot of taxes, so Harry is wrong,” Romney said at a news conference. “Harry Reid has to put up or shut up. Harry, who are your sources?”
Obama and Reid have developed a close partnership during the president’s time in office, as the two have increasingly coordinated the Senate’s agenda to match the campaign rhetoric. And Reid, an ultimate loyalist, benefited mightily from Obama’s aggressive effort in 2010 to help the majority leader pull off a hard-fought reelection battle many thought he had no chance of winning.
Now, Reid is driving Obama’s political message, as he did in a missive Friday, telling his supporters in an email that he’s “not backing down” from his allegations that Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years and that voters “can’t let Mitt Romney get away” with “hiding” his tax returns.
“Gov. Romney has told me to ‘put up or shut up’ — but he’s the one who shut up when people asked legitimate questions about his finances, and it’s up to him to put up his taxes so we can see the answers,” Reid said in the email.
Reid has a penchant for enraging Republicans — whether it’s his vitriolic rhetoric (calling George W. Bush a “loser” or Alan Greenspan “one of the biggest political hacks”) or refusal to allow Republicans to offer amendments in the Senate. And this instance is no different, with Romney’s top adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, questioning whether the senator had “no decency” and Romney furiously refuting the charges for two days in a row, calling them “dishonest.”
But according to several people close to the majority leader, that’s exactly what Reid wants.
“What Republicans don’t get is the more they fire back at Reid, the more he will fight,” said another top Reid confidante. “And in the end, what will the topic be? Romney and his taxes.”
Reid initially acknowledged to The Huffington Post that he’s not “certain” that the information is correct. But that hasn’t stopped him from repeating the charge to Nevada reporters, saying on the Senate floor that the “word is out” that Romney hadn’t paid taxes for a decade. He expanded on his allegation in a lengthy statement Thursday night that accused Romney of “hiding something” by not releasing more of his tax returns.
“He’s doing what he always does,” said Jon Ralston, a top political analyst in Nevada, “which is to say the things that most partisans and elected officials only dream about saying.”
Reid — a millionaire who owns a condo at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington — has a history of foot-in-the-mouth gaffes that tend to cause him and his staff much embarrassment. The most notable incident came in January 2010 in the book “Game Change,” in which he referred to Obama as having a “light-skinned” appearance who spoke “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” something Reid believed helped him win the presidency in 2008. Reid went on a multi-day public apology tour to clean up the political mess.
But the latest episode is no gaffe, his advisers say. It’s a deliberate attempt to spotlight the fact that Romney has released his tax returns only for 2010 — when he paid an effective rate of 13.9 percent — and his plans to release only his 2011 returns in October. Democrats believe Romney — whose personal fortune is estimated to be up to $250 million — would be seen as out of touch if he releases more tax returns. If he doesn’t, they can pound him for being secretive.
“His poor father must be so embarrassed about his son,” Reid told The Huffington Post, referring to George Romney’s presidential run in 1968, when he released 12 years of tax returns.
On “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” Stewart tore apart Reid, calling him a “terrible” person and calling it a “bull sh-t shot.”
“I cannot believe you just went dead dad shame on Mitt Romney,” Stewart said.
Asked how Reid was responding to such criticism, a third person close to Reid shrugged it off entirely.
“It’s impossible to say how little he cares,” the Reid confidante said. “He literally could not care less.”
- Harry Reid uses ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy against Romney (blogforarizona.com)
- Reince Priebus: Harry Reid Is a Dirty, Dirty Liar (lezgetreal.com)
- DNC Chair refuses to “repudiate” Reid on Romney tax fraud charge (redalertpolitics.com)
- Maddow: Romney demanded opponents’ tax returns and lied about residency in 2002 | The Raw Story (mbcalyn.com)
- Lindsey Graham: Harry Reid Is ‘Lying’ About Romney Not Paying Taxes (huffingtonpost.com)
- Why Reid keeps attacking Romney (politico.com)
- Priebus: Harry Reid is a “dirty liar” (redalertpolitics.com)
- Karl Rove Calls Out Harry Reid’s ‘Slime Ball Nature’; Says the Senate Majority Leader Should Be ‘Embarrassed and Ashamed’ (foxnewsinsider.com)
- Mitt Romney Ought to Sue Harry Reid for Slander (uncommontary.com)
- Mitt Romney And Senator Harry Reid Spar Over Income Taxes (fox2now.com)