What Might Be Hiding in Mitt Romney's Tax Returns

The intrigue grows over the GOP presidential candidate's secret tax documents.

By + More
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks in Houston, Texas.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so Mitt Romney's refusal to release tax returns for any year prior to 2010 has freed people like me to speculate about what he might be hiding.

[See the latest Mitt Romney political cartoons.]

As many suspect, it could be that Romney's pre-2010 returns entail even more Swiss accounts, offshore havens and other artful tax dodges that might be unbecoming for a presidential candidate. But maybe we don't know Mitt Romney as well as we think. It's also possible that his undisclosed tax returns reveal that:

Romney's not so rich after all. What if Romney had a few down years and earned, say, only $2 million or $3 million instead of the $21 million he took home in 2011? That might make him seem like more of a regular guy to voters, but it could wreck his reputation at the country club(s). The wealthy work hard to seem even richer than they really are, taking on gobs of debt to buy mansions and Maseratis and relying on OPM (other people's money) whenever possible to suppory their lavish lifestyles. Romney's net worth is supposedly more than $200 million, but if he turned out to be a poseur worth far less, the .01 percent would never stop snickering.

He deducted charitable contributions to Planned Parenthood. Romney was considered a supporter of abortion rights when he ran for Massachusetts governor in 2002. Then, he officially switched his stance in 2005. Now, as a Republican who needs conservative support, he insists he is firmly a pro-life candidate. But who knows how he really feels? If there's any record of Romney donating to liberal groups, conservatives' worst fears would be confirmed.

[Mitt Romney's secret weapon: Tax havens for all!]

He lost money on dumb investments. Romney portrays himself as a savvy businessman, but what if he lost money by doubling down on Lehman Brothers in 2008 or investing with Bernie Madoff or helping bankroll the Speed Racer remake? Suddenly he'd look overconfident and gullible, like any other ordinary fool.

He owned Toyota stock when he wrote, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." That was the headline of an op-ed article Romney penned for the New York Times in November 2008, when he was a private citizen. What if Romney had investments in companies that would have benefited from the demise of General Motors and Chrysler, which survived thanks to government bailouts? It would reveal what Romney really learned from having a father who ran a Detroit car company—invest in the competition.

He deducted expenses for cosmetic surgery. Romney could have plausibly claimed that he needed teeth whitening, hair thickening or facial elongation to make himself a viable political candidate. After all, he has promised to do practically anything to defeat Barack Obama.

[See 3 myths about Mitt Romney and the rich.]

The Romney kids are professional layabouts. They certainly have a wholesome, all-American look, but all five Romney kids are also rich trust-funders who probably never have to work if they don't want to. The less voters know about that, the better.

The Romneys have bad taste in art. A lot of rich people collect art, and their holdings sometimes show up as capital gains or losses when they buy or sell. What if tax returns show that Romney collects velvet Elvis renderings or paintings of dogs playing poker? Even lowbrow voters know there's no place for kitsch in the White House.

Seamus the dog once had a blind trust. This might have been Romney's way of absolving his guilt over strapping the Irish setter to the roof of the car for that infamous family vacation in 1983. Dog lovers might applaud, but still.

Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.