The crowd at Thursday’s CNN debate booed Mitt Romney when he tried to joke about whether he would follow his father’s example and release many years worth of tax returns to the American public.
Romney’s father, Michigan Gov. George Romney, released 12 years of tax returns when he ran for president in 1967 in what was then an unprecedented act of transparency by a candidate. As moderator John King noted, George Romney said he released tax returns for 12 years because “one year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show.”
King then asked Mitt Romney if he would “follow your father’s example” and release years of returns at once.
“Maybe,” Romney replied, laughing. The joke landed flat.
“I don’t know how many years I’ll release,” Romney continued. “I’ll take a look at what the, uh, the documents are –”
Romney was then interrupted by shouts and booing from the audience. He stopped, smiled tightly and nodded to the crowd.
“I’ll release for multiple years, I don’t know how many years,” Romney said, starting up again. In an attempt to turn the question around, he said he knew Democrats would attack him for his financial success and claimed that was the reason why he would release “theses things all at the same time.”
Dipping back into family history a bit, Romney then started talking about his father’s rough-and-tumble early years (George Romney was born in Mexico to Mormon settlers and never received a college degree) and his later success in the automotive industry.
“I could have stayed in Detroit, like him, and got pulled up into the car company,” Romney said. “I went off on my own. I didn’t inherit any money from my parents.”
“What I have, I earned,” Romney added, to applause this time. “I worked hard — the American way.”
However, Romney told Reuters in December that he did inherit money from his parents but did not keep it.
“What I got from my parents when they passed away I gave away to charity and to my kids,” Romney said at the time. “And so what I’ve earned has been earned through my education, my values, living in the greatest country in the world, through some luck and through hard work.”