I'm finding it hilarious that the Obama campaign is currently using Harry Reid, of all people, as point man on its current attack at Mitt Romney.
Of course there's some irony, and some tiny bit of backlash protection, provided by using a fellow Mormon to accuse Romney of paying nothing in income taxes for a decade. But the elegance and genius of the move is just astounding. (And I don't think there's any question Reid is doing this in coordination with the campaign... no way he'd go riding off on his own for a whole week like this, given the potential blowback.)
First, as Rachel Maddow points out, having Romney get into a scrap with the Senate Majority Leader makes Romney look weaker and like he's not really in Obama's class. (Which, as a politician, he clearly isn't.)
Second, it doesn't matter at all what Romney says in response to Reid's seemingly wild accusation. He can whine about Reid "putting up or shutting up" all he wants. The mere fact that he won't release his returns even in response to something as outrageous as this means people will assume that either a) Reid's accusation is true, or that b) it isn't true but what's in the returns is just as damaging. Keep in mind too that the rather inept and leak-prone McCain campaign already looked at his returns four years ago... whether or not you think that explains why they passed Romney over for Palin, it drastically increases the odds that the Obama campaign already has a pretty good idea of what's in those returns. Plus, Reid and the Obama campaign know damn well that there's basically zero chance Romney actually releases his returns to disprove the allegations. This is a guy who has been campaigning off and on for public office since the '90s and hadn't released any returns at all until the piddling drip of 2010 returns he reluctantly offered up for his presidential run.
Third, Romney's weak non-response further paints him as a bully who can dish it out but can't take it: a narrative that ties right in to the "haircut" incident from his school days and, frankly, his standard reaction to anyone who challenges him or doesn't back down from him.
Obama's just toying with the poor sap right now, and we're barely into August. Given Romney's innate cowardice and his campaign's tendency towards hiding their candidate, right now I'd put the odds at about 20% that they only debate once, and at about 10% that there are no debates between Obama and Romney at all. The more smacks to the mouth Romney takes, the more likely it becomes that he just turtles and tries desperately to let a tidal wave of super PAC money carry him into the White House.