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Friday, February 22 , 2019, 3:00 am | Fair 42º


Mark Shields: Politically, Mitt Romney Is Weak on Defense

Republican presidential hopeful can't hide the truth about his tax-sheltered investments in far-off lands

Back shortly after the cooling of the Earth, when I was still working on political campaigns, one of the iron rules by which we operated was to examine the record and career of our own candidate just as intensely as we researched the statements and positions of our opponent.

The logic was solid. If there is something personally or politically embarrassing in your candidate’s background that you will need to defend during the campaign, you need to know all about it as soon as possible. This requires a candid sit-down in private with the candidate, where he is asked directly to confess any dark secret that could, if revealed in the last week of the campaign, sink his candidacy.

The procedure was referred to “woodshedding” your candidate. You can be sure, especially after the politically unhelpful surprises produced by the vice presidential pick of 2008 nominee John McCain, that each of Gov. Mitt Romney’s prospective 2012 running-mates is being exhaustively “woodshedded.”

Recall the Friday before Tuesday’s Election Day in the down-to-the-wire 2000 presidential race between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, when national media coverage was dominated by the news that Bush had concealed a drunken-driving conviction for 24 years. The Republican’s problems were compounded by the fact that in 1998 Bush had answered Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News’ direct question, “Were you ever arrested after 1968?” by untruthfully saying “No.”

Which brings us to 2012 and the self-inflicted wounds of Republican candidate Romney, a man of significant personal wealth who has been running for the White House for most of this century. Yet, almost daily, we get the drip-drip-drip of incomplete reports about Romney’s tax-sheltered investments in far-off lands, including Luxembourg, Ireland, Australia, Ireland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

In the only complete tax return he has made public, the one for 2010, there was one more gift to beleaguered Democrats: news that the blind trust held by Ann Romney included a $3 million Swiss bank account that had not been fully reported on Romney’s previous financial disclosure statements.

The Romney household didn’t need the extra money. But the candidate does need more political good will. That’s why, long before his 2008 presidential run, all of these foreign affairs relating to his personal piggy bank should have been shuttered.

Here’s what we know. Romney and his campaign are spending a lot of time, effort and energy trying — with less than limited success — to explain why his tax-shelter investments in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda prove that he really understands the plight of struggling American families in Flint, Mich., or Steubenville, Ohio. We also know that Romney, who has been running full-tilt for president for at least the last six years, has had advising him some smart, savvy and experienced people. We can be sure that Romney, a man of keen intelligence, has been told more than once by at least some of these more candid, savvy counselors that Swiss bank accounts and Caribbean portfolios do not signal the “regular guy” who knows the hopes and anxieties of ordinary Americans and with whom they would enjoy sharing a cold beverage.

So we come to one of two conclusions: Either maximizing his personal, after-tax profits has continued to take precedence over — even to the point of putting at political risk — Romney’s presidential dreams, or he’s a guy who doesn’t want to hear blunt, unpleasant truths from his advisers.

Neither alternative is especially reassuring to still-deciding voters. For Romney, it’s woodshed time.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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