Donald Trump's remarks Wednesday, in contravention of a promise he made multiple times, that he's going to try to get through the election without releasing his tax returns (only after they are finished being "audited," which will be known only by him) remind us he is not a "presumptive nominee" at all. He is still short of the 1,237 delegates needed. Moreover, those delegates have new and compelling grounds for setting down a condition on his nomination that he may or may not be able to meet: namely, release of past tax returns in keeping with a 40-year tradition.
Mitt Romney signaled how serious is the issue in a Facebook post:
"It is disqualifying for a modern-day presidential nominee to refuse to release tax returns to the voters, especially one who has not been subject to public scrutiny in either military or public service. Tax returns provide the public with its sole confirmation of the veracity of a candidate's representations regarding charities, priorities, wealth, tax conformance and conflicts of interest. Further, while not a likely circumstance, the potential for hidden inappropriate associations with foreign entities, criminal organizations, or other unsavory groups is simply too great a risk to ignore for someone who is seeking to become commander-in-chief."
Even assuming Trump is actually being "audited," Romney points out this is no excuse, especially when running for president. "There is nothing that prevents releasing tax returns that are being audited," he wrote. "Further, he could release returns for the years immediately prior to the years under audit. There is only one logical explanation for Mr. Trump's refusal to release his returns: There is a bombshell in them. Given Mr. Trump's equanimity with other flaws in his history, we can only assume it's a bombshell of unusual size."
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By refusing to release his returns, Trump is saying he puts his own financial and personal interests above the party and the voters. That is something no serious, national party can condone. "This is Trump's bait-and switch-style at its most dangerous. Some Trump delegates and their alternates should write him an open letter demanding his unredacted tax returns," suggests John Fund. "If he declines, they should declare they will abstain on the first ballot of the convention, driving him below the number needed to nominate. The delegates should not give Republicans a time bomb that could help take down GOP control of the House or the Senate, or both."
A longtime delegate guru stressed to me in a phone interview that the media -- at Trump's and the RNC's urging -- has badly jumped the gun in dubbing Trump the presumptive nominee. When you have a delegation this divided with this many concerns, the biggest thing -- maybe the only thing -- that matters now is the rules committee. With appointees from each delegation, it will hold the power to, for example, open the floor up to all candidates on the first ballot. It could insist on financial disclosure by any and all candidates prior to the nomination. It could include a "conscience clause" making clear that bound delegates may vote their conscience based on new information revealed subsequent to their selection. The possibilities are infinite.
The backlash over Trump's reneging on the release of his tax returns should, but likely won't, put a halt to the talk about Trump as inevitable. There is now every reason -- and plenty of means -- to contest the nomination at the convention. Moreover, if Trump's character flaws, flip-flops and campaign ineptitude (now he says he will build his campaign on mass gatherings, not data collection) have not been enough to spur a third candidate search, the refusal of the nominee to release his taxes, setting a ticking time bomb for the fall, should remove any doubt about the need for a backup plan. Mitt Romney sounds prepared. Anyone else want to give it a try?
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.