Harry Reid's Attack Boxes Mitt Romney In

Harry Reid's tax accusation appears to put Mitt Romney in a tough spot.

ByABC News
August 6, 2012, 3:40 PM

Aug. 7, 2012 -- Harry Reid's campaign to corner Mitt Romney, forcing the Republican presidential candidate to disclose his tax returns or keep on trying to explain why he won't, will carry on another day.

The Senate majority leader told reporters in his home state of Nevada Monday that the "whole controversy" -- the one Reid himself incited by claiming that a former Bain Capital business associate told him that Romney didn't pay taxes for a decade -- "would end very quickly if [Romney] would just release his income tax returns just like everybody else that runs for president."

Not that Reid appears to be in any rush to see that happen.

He is the latest in a long line of political leaders to channel the ruthless wisdom of another former Senate majority leader, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who, as the late Hunter S. Thompson told it, sealed a comeback win in his 1948 Senate primary campaign by calling a news conference to allege that his opponent, a prominent and well-regarded pig rancher, "was having routine carnal knowledge of his barnyard animals."

When Johnson's press secretary balked, saying it wasn't true, Johnson spat back: "Of course it's not, but let's make the bastard deny it."

Top Republicans say Reid is pulling a similar stunt. On Sunday, Republican National Committee chief Reince Preibus called Reid, who refuses to reveal his source, a "dirty liar."

Asked about that comment Monday, Priebus didn't budge.

"There's no triple down in blackjack, but I'll triple down on my comments from [Sunday]," Priebus said during a Fox News interview. "It's just the truth. What else do you call somebody who goes onto the Senate floor and claims that someone hasn't paid taxes in 10 years, a complete lie, and uses his official office to do it?"

We'll probably never know whether Reid is employing such blunt cynicism on the president's behalf. What is undeniable, though, is that Romney is being forced to "deny it." Reid says Romney can prove him wrong anytime; the candidate only needs to reveal more tax returns. Romney meanwhile, has told Reid to "put up or shut up." And so it goes, back and forth, on and on, one spicy storyline in an otherwise cautious campaign.

The last presidential candidate to be faced with such a bold, personal attack -- John Kerry, whose military record was questioned and degraded by the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" group -- chose at first to publicly discount the accusations. By the time Kerry's campaign responded, the narrative had spun out of their hands and the candidate was forced into the unenviable position of defending his own personal history while trying to unseat an incumbent president.