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Special Report

Should Romney release tax records now?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 18, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Wow, a lot talk about Governor Romney's taxes, both the 15 percent rate on capital gains that he pays on investments and also about how much money he made for speeches. You heard Senator Santorum attack him on that.

We're back with the panel. Mary Katharine, first let's deal with the fact that one of his high profile endorsers, Chris Christie, is saying listen, get it out there. Just do it.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, DAILY CALLER: That had to set off alarm bells back at the campaign HQ, I would guess. But I think we wouldn't be talking about this a lot if the first time Romney was asked, which I think was a little bit before New Hampshire, at least that is the most recent time before the debate, if he had said listen, April is the time we do it. I'll release them in April, check back with me then. Forceful, just get it done and make it simple.

He sort of bumbled around, he bumbled around in the debate, hemming and hawing, and that gives people an opening to talk about this. Now he's sort of built this situation where maybe it would be better to get them out sooner rather than later. And yes, they're going to be targeted, there's gonna be a lot of stories on them, despite the fact the Obama administration has its fair share of tax issues with the various people they've nominated in the past. But he's got to learn to talk about it and talk about it smartly. And so --

BAIER: In the Republican primary, is it a problem that he pays a tax rate essentially because he has investments and he gets income from those investments, Chuck? Aren't Republicans overall supportive of capital gains being at 15 percent? And that is OK?

CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I bet you $10,000, Bret, that will not hurt him in the Republican primary. And really won't hurt him that much generally, the fact that wow, he is a rich guy and he only pays 15 percent on capital gains.

What will hurt him, is if he is seen as somebody who, kind of like, can't make a decision whether a simple question like should I release the tax returns or not. That goes to what you were just saying which is that this is something, this is sort of morphing from a question like how rich is Mitt Romney -- we all know the answer, very -- to a question of sort of how he is running a campaign and what kind of leadership he is showing.

BAIER: And what about the $300,000 plus in speeches that he ends that sound bite saying not very much?

LANE: Well, you know, I took that as, well, I don't want to brag -- I mean you could read it either way. I thought Santorum was kind of going overboard there.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think Santorum read it the way that it will be read, which is that this is a guy who is out of touch. That is how it will be understood. If somebody running in a state like South Carolina with 10 percent unemployment with a medium per capita income, I think is in the mid-30's to say what he got from the speeches which was about $370,000 is not a lot, I think is sort of like George W. Bush at the checkout counter. Here's a guy who is rich, who's not in touch. And that I think is a lot more serious than he pays the rate that is required by law for cap gains.

So I'm a little bit concerned about that. I'm not sure, look, it's not gonna be the major issue in this campaign, but anything, any anecdote that supports a narrative of a pre-existing stereotype or a narrative of a guy who's rich, who is out of touch and looks a little stiff, who everybody agrees doesn't have the common touch I think hurts him.

BAIER: Congressman Paul was not on the campaign trail today. He was on Capitol Hill. But there was some back and forth Mary Katharine. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, R - FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: If I had to vote in South Carolina, in order to keep this thing going, I'd vote for Newt. And I would want this to continue, more debates, more vetting of candidates, because we know the mistake made in our country four years ago was having a candidate that was not vetted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, that was the wrong sound bite, but there you see Governor Palin --

(CROSSTALK)

BAIER: -- actually saying that she would vote for Newt Gingrich if she were in South Carolina. What about that?

HAM: She sounds like she wants to keep the process going, she thinks it's a healthy process. I'm not anti-keeping the process going. I'm not sure how -- Newt could perform very well in two debates, I think he could climb back and gain points on Romney. Do I think he's going to overtake him? It's sort of a large margin, although, one poll shows 11 percent. I think he could make a lot of that up, maybe make some money, hang on for a few states but it does become harder and harder to see how someone overtakes Romney.

BAIER: Alright, let me try this again. This is a Romney-Gingrich exchange. Let's see if we have it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Government doesn't create jobs. It's the private sector that creates jobs.

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: Congressmen taking responsibility, or taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the internet.

NEWT GINGRICH, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I fully expect the Romney campaign to be unendingly dirty and dishonest for the next four days because they are desperate, they thought they could buy this. They are discovering they can't buy this. I think they are now going to -- I think they have internal polls that show them losing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Chuck, is there this momentum for Newt Gingrich do you think in South Carolina?

LANE: Well, a little bit. There was a poll today that shows he narrowed the gap to about 10 points behind Romney. But my goodness, Newt Gingrich is really going over the top. "Unendingly dirty and dishonest...trying to buy the election," I mean, that kind of rhetoric is so over the top. I think there is still time, there's still 72 or 96 hours left for Newt to shoot himself in the foot again before the people start voting.

KRAUTHAMER: It makes no sense. He did so well at the debate on presenting a vision, making arguments, and not attacking Romney or even Obama but making the conservative case. He does that in a way that nobody in the field can match.

And yet here he is, again, it's a lack of discipline. He gets off on this tirade against Romney that can only hurt him. That is the new negative Newt. They are two Newts. He knows which one works. I'm surprised he can't control himself for a week so at least he gets until Saturday, as the Newt of Monday night who was the star of the show.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned for some last-minute adjustments to some political ads. And we'll have also have our text-to-vote results on the other side of the break.

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