The controversy over Mitt Romney's tax returns has now grown to the point that even Republicans are speculating about their contents and calling for him to release earlier returns. On Tuesday John McCain, one of the few people who actually knows what devastating secrets lie within the documents, attempted to help Romney out by saying the returns weren't the reason he wasn't his VP pick. Unfortunately, that plan backfired when he explained that Sarah Palin was simply "better" than Romney.
When Politico asked McCain why he went with Palin over Romney, he said:
Oh come on, because we thought that Sarah Palin was the better candidate. Why did we not take [Tim] Pawlenty, why did we not take any of the other 10 other people. Why didn’t I? Because we had a better candidate, the same way with all the others. ... Come on, why? That’s a stupid question.
The implication that Palin is better than Romney at anything other than fitting large flag pins onto her lapel and having more family members featured on reality TV is fairly shocking, so that's the headline most media outlets went with, even though it's fairly obvious McCain meant she was a better VP pick for his ticket in the 2008 race. (Apparently those interpreting McCain's remark didn't read Game Change, or even bother to watch the HBO movie.)
The response sent McCain into full curmudgeon mode. Later in the day he complained to reporters that his words had been misinterpreted, saying, "It’s really getting a little disgraceful, twisting someone’s words when clearly I said and meant that she was the best fit for our campaign."
McCain also reiterated his real message: There's nothing in Romney's tax returns that would disqualify him as a candidate, and McCain will "personally vouch" for that. In what's probably a reference to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel suggesting on ABC's This Week that McCain picked Palin after seeing Romney's returns, McCain added that he's only weighing in because of the "scurrilous, scurrilous Chicago style sleaze intimations with no basis in fact whatsoever." Oddly, although there's supposedly nothing damaging in Romney's tax returns, McCain still doesn't think he should cave to those demanding to see them. "So if your opponent makes a big deal out of some issue then you’re supposed to do something that no one else has done?" said McCain.
On Monday, former McCain strategist Steve Schmidt told the Huffington Post that while "Romney's wealth was seen as a liability" to a candidate already being hammered for owning twelve homes, issues surrounding Romney's taxes were never discussed. Unfortunately, Schmidt can't back up McCain's assessment of Romney's returns because, despite what the movie would have you believe, he wasn't involved in the vetting process and never saw the documents. We'll just have to trust the judgment of the guy who was ultimately responsible for putting an inadequately vetted Alaska governor on his ticket.