Sen. Harry Reid needs to show his cards. If he has a scintilla of real evidence that Mitt Romney hasn't paid income taxes for 10 years, he has to come out with it now.
So far, the top Senate Democrat from Nevada has stubbornly refused to reveal the person he says told him, other than saying it's an "extremely credible" source who invested with Bain Capital, the private equity firm that Romney led.
If Reid is trying to bluff Romney into releasing his tax returns, it isn't working. Rather, Reid's gambit is undermining the legitimate calls for the presumptive Republican nominee to make his taxes public.
And make no mistake: Romney should release his taxes just like nearly all recent presidential candidates have done. Voters deserve to know much more about the finances of the man who wants to be their leader.
But Reid is an awkward advocate on this issue, since he won't release his tax returns, either. His defense is that he isn't running for president and that he files financial disclosures as a member of Congress. It still smacks of hypocrisy.
Even if Reid's source exists, it's not at all clear how that person would know the details of Romney's personal taxes. Also, based on what Romney has disclosed, showing he paid $3 million in federal income taxes in both 2010 and 2011, it seems implausible that he went a whole decade without paying any taxes.
This all-too-typical war of words the GOP chairman called Reid a "dirty liar" on national TV Sunday, while Reid calls Romney "the most secretive presidential candidate since Richard Nixon" is what makes people sick of politics. It is also distracting attention from the substantive issue of Romney's tax plan, which would hand even more tax breaks to the rich like him, at the expense of middle-class families.
Supporters of President Barack Obama who are defending Reid among them top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco should be very careful about condoning these tactics. Are they that much different, really, than Rep. Michele Bachmann, without any substantiated evidence, accusing a senior State Department official of being disloyal and having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood? One wouldn't have to dive too much deeper in the muck to get to the "birthers" who claim to have proof that Obama wasn't born in the United States.
For a president who promised to change Washington, this kind of down-and-dirty politics ought to disgust him. Every day Obama doesn't publicly disavow Reid's play, the more he owns it.
As for Reid, he has further sullied his reputation and damaged his ability to work with Republicans on legislation that would actually help the American people.
Coming from a gambling state, Reid should know this better than most: If you don't have the cards, sometimes it's best to fold.