Mitt Romney said Thursday he has paid at least a 13 percent tax rate every year for the past 10 years, in an attempt to rebut an allegation by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that a Bain investor told him Romney paid effectively nothing in income taxes during that decade.
Here is an imagined conversation between Romney and a top aide, which led to that announcement. It was fabricated on Aug. 16 and bears no resemblance to actual discussions within the Romney campaign. I think.
TOP AIDE (TA): Governor, time’s running out. We’re going to have to release at least one or two years of your tax returns.
MITT ROMNEY: What?! It’s a complete invasion of my privacy.
TA: Invading your privacy is what running for president is about. You have to be the most public citizen in the country.
MR: Spare me the civics lesson. I won’t do it. How many times do I have to say it?
TA: OK, how’s this? We release them during our convention.
MR: Are you crazy?! I’ve been waiting for this coronation for six years. And we’re going to ruin it with my tax returns? Not gonna happen. And the vultures in the press? They’ll be skulking around looking for ways to embarrass me.
TA: OK, what about during the Democrat convention?
MR: That place will be filled with vermin — Democratic delegates, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank — all looking to humiliate me. And they’ll be feeding the vultures in the national media.
TA: What about your father, sir? God rest his soul.
MR: What about him?
TA: He released 13 years of his tax returns.
MR: Yeah, and that was dumb. My dad did a lot of things I didn’t do, like running a car company. It failed, you know. But he marched with Martin Luther King.
TA: We’ve been over that, sir. It never happened. We can’t find a newsclipping of him marching with Dr. King anywhere.
MR: That’s a crock. The liberal media destroyed the clippings.
TA: What about the story being peddled by Harry Reid, about an investor at Bain who told him that you didn’t pay anything in taxes for a decade?
MR: Who’s the investor? I’ll kill the S.O.B.
TA: We don’t know. Does it sound right to you?
MR: I don’t do my own taxes.
TA: You mean it is possible you paid nothing for 10 years?
MR: I’d like to get my hands on Harry Reid, the S.O.B. He’s a Mormon, you know.
TA: Forget him. Did you or did you not pay no taxes for 10 years?
MR: I’m not going to talk about this, dammit!
TA: You can’t say that now.
MR: Why not? I’m the nominee. It’s like being CEO at Bain. I do whatever I want.
TA: Governor, you’ve been saying you’ll release last year’s tax returns.
MR: Yes, I said that. But I was wrong. See, people say I don’t admit mistakes. I made a mistake when I said I’d release them. I was wrong. Are you happy?
TA: So what are we going to release?
MR: I’ve thought about this. We’ll give them an executive summary. We do it all the time in business. No CEO has time to read 75-page documents. Some accounting firm will put their name on a brief summary.
TA: Which accounting firm?
MR: Doesn’t matter. They all do what they’re told if they want to get any work out of Bain or any of our other investments. Didn’t you see what they did on Wall Street?
TA: What would be in the summaries?
MR: Something like this: “We have examined the returns and agree that Mr. Romney paid an average of no less than 13 percent in taxes.”
TA: And that’s it?
MR: I’m not going to let Obama and the Democrats pore over page after page of my investments. They don’t understand foreign tax treatment and many other things.
TA: They know Swiss bank accounts and money in the Cayman Islands.
MR: Well, all they’re going to see is a summary.
TA: Maybe Fox News will take it, but not the other networks and MSNBC and John Stewart and the New York Times, the Washington Post…
MR: Those people don’t like me anyway.
TA: Honestly, sir, lots of people who are for us will say you should release actual returns.
MR Like who?
TA: George Will…
MR: By the time he gets the complaint out of his mouth nobody will remember what the question was.
TA: Bill Kristol.
MR: Lemme ask you, why should we care about someone who hosted the Oscars?
TA: Wrong guy.
MR: Lemme read you what I’m going to say. “Given the challenges that America faces — 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty — the fascination with taxes I’ve paid I find to be very small-minded compared to the broad issues that we face.”
TA: And you think that’ll be the end of it?
MR: I’ll say it over and over. “I went back and took a look at my taxes and over the past 10 years I never paid less than 13 percent.”
TA: Why will the press believe that?
MR: Because I know better than Harry Reid what I paid in taxes.
TA: Yes, but you’ve both got the same proof — none.
MR: Look, I know what I saw. Harry Reid hasn’t seen diddly.
TA: I love it when you talk like that. So, what can I tell Eric [Fehrnstrom] to say to the press?
MR: We are done talking about tax returns. Just like we are done talking about individual mandates. We are done talking about abortion and Etch A Sketch and climate change and Rufus and cheesy grits. And we’re done talking about the London Olympics and NASCAR and trees being the right size and corporations are people, and Ann’s Cadillacs. I’m done with it all. As the young people say, that’s so history.
TA: Anything else?
MR: Yes, listen to me. We are never, ever in a million years going to release those tax returns. Got that?
TA: Yes, sir.
MR: One more thing: I like firing people who give services to me.
Dan Payne is WBUR’s Democratic analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.