Published for www.washingtonpost.com, April 16, 2012

Mitt Romney handed President Obama a political gift this weekend, when his campaign announced that he would not file his tax return on time. Romney made the announcement at 5 p.m. on Friday — the time politicians usually put out bad news they hope no one will notice. Team Obama noticed all right. The president took a break from the Summit of the Americas in Colombia to criticize Romney’s lack of transparency, while Obama campaign manager Jim Messina declared that it “begs the question — what does he have to hide?”

“What does he have to hide?” will be a major theme of the Obama campaign in the coming months. Both a pro-Obama super PAC and the Democratic National Committee have videos up asking: “What’s Mitt hiding?” And Obama strategist David Axelrod has told Politico that the Obama campaign intends to make an issue of “Romney’s penchant for secrecy.” “Harkening back to my youth . . . there was a show called, ‘I’ve Got A Secret.’ Increasingly, I think that would be the appropriate title for the Romney campaign,” Axelrod said, adding that voters need to ask themselves “Who is this guy? What does he stand for? What does he believe? What do we know about him?”

Republicans need to ask themselves: Why does Romney seem to be going out of his way to help Obama raise such questions?

Take, for example, news reports this morning that Romney has previously undisclosed plans to eliminate entire Cabinet agencies if elected. Romney is quoted as saying, “I’m probably not going to lay out [publicly] just exactly which ones are going to go.” Where did the media find out about his secret plan to reduce the size of government? The Wall Street Journal reports that Romney “discussed his plans while speaking to high-dollar donors at a private estate. During the backyard event, which could be overheard by reporters outside on a public sidewalk, Mr. Romney offered policy specifics he has yet to unveil on the campaign trail.” So Romney is sharing secret details of his plans to shut down government agencies with wealthy contributors in Palm Beach, Fla., that he has not shared — and in fact says he does not plan to share — with the American people.

These are self-inflicted wounds — and if they continue they could cost Republicans the election.

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