Why Romney's Taxes Matter

Not because of the details. Because we're consuming valuable time talking about them.

Mitt Romney has been avoiding releasing his tax returns since 1994, when he demanded that Ted Kennedy disclose them -- then refused to show his own before Kennedy did. Last year, he sought to kick the can until, at least, April, and take the hit in the dead Spring after he'd gotten the nomination.

Now, Romney's problem isn't necessarily that he's rich -- we knew that -- or even his low rate. Democratic nominee John Kerry, after all, paid a similar rate on his own investment-based income in 2004. He also has some reasonable comebacks to Newt Gingrich on the issue: Gingrich would, Romney noted last night, have Romney paying no taxes at all under his abolition of the capital gains tax; and Gingrich, though he has disclosed his personal returns, has yet to disclose the returns of his company -- something that could raise new questions if disclosure fever spreads.

The real problem for Romney is simply time. He needs to turn the momentum in Florida by retaking control of the conversation, and by focusing -- this, at least, is the plan -- on Newt Gingrich's flaws. And with just a week before the primary, he's running out of time.

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