Romney Relents, Will Release Tax Records

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After days of mounting pressure and a stinging loss to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina on Saturday night, Mitt Romney announced Sunday morning that he’ll be releasing his 2010 tax records and a estimate of 2011 figures for public scrutiny on Tuesday.

“We’ll be putting our returns on the Internet. People can look through them,” Romney told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, explaining that the issue had become a distraction. “We made a mistake in holding off as long as we did.” But it had only begun to look like a mistake in the last few days.

Romney’s tax returns, which are expected to show not only the enormous size of his investment income, but also large amounts of tithing to the Mormon church and a low effective tax rate — 15% by his estimate, far below that of most middle-class wage-earners — was always going to be an issue. The disclosure drumbeat from Obama allies, who have long predicted that Romney will win the nomination, started as soon as the former Massachusetts governor announced his bid. But if RomneyWorld felt no urgency on the matter, it was understandable. The tax issue was never really raised by fellow Republicans during his previous presidential bid in 2008 and, hopeful that he could wrap up the nomination quickly, Romney planned to dump the records in April, after the primary was settled and before the general election heated up.

Then came South Carolina. Amid fumbling answers to questions about his taxes in two debates there, and prodding from press and rivals alike, Romney lost to Gingrich Saturday night, raising the specter of an extended primary fight. He’ll still likely win, but the expressway to the GOP nomination that Romney once rode has been closed. He will have to trek through the mud on his way to August’s GOP convention in Tampa. That means not only disclosing his tax returns earlier than he’d like, but also finding direct ways to criticize his enemies for bringing it up.

In a speech to supporters on Saturday night, Romney began laying the groundwork. Though he never mentioned Gingrich by name but to congratulate him, Romney spent about half his time implicitly attacking his opponent for making Romney’s wealth and his tenure at private equity firm Bain Capital an issue. “The Republican party doesn’t demonize prosperity, we celebrate success,”  he said. “Those who pick up the weapons of the left today will see them turned against us tomorrow.” Whoever does this, he warned,  “will not be fit to be our nominee.”