A single word can turn a campaign in the wrong direction. In the case of Rick Perry, of course, that word was “oops.” In the case of Mitt Romney, the word was “maybe”: Romney’s answer to the question of whether he would release his tax returns. It came across as arrogant and condescending. Whether it turned the tide in the South Carolina primary is impossible to say, but it definitely diminished Romney. Most people who go into electoral politics do so knowing that they will likely be called upon to release their tax returns. It is expected. Romney ducked and dodged the question, saying that he might release them in April. “Maybe” was as close as he came.
Romney’s inconsistent statements raised the issue of why he wouldn’t release them and whether there was something embarrassing that he didn’t want anyone to know about. This is exactly what happened to Bill White. He wouldn’t release his returns, and the Perry campaign used it as an excuse to keep from debating White, and to impugn White’s ethics. Romney’s “Maybe” was his Bill White moment. He let the issue fester, when he should have known that he was going to have to release the returns in the end. Now he finds himself in a dogfight with Gingrich, trailing in the polls, with no assurance that he can win in Florida. Another self-inflicted wound in a race that has abounded with them.