In 2012, when Barack Obama was running for reelection as president, Nevada’s U.S. Sen. Harry Reid claimed that Republican nominee Mitt Romney had failed to pay his federal income taxes.
“He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years. Now, do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain. But obviously he can’t release those tax returns. How would it look? You guys have said his wealth is $250 million. Not a chance in the world. It’s a lot more than that. I mean, you do pretty well if you don’t pay taxes for 10 years when you’re making millions and millions of dollars.”
There was widespread outcry, both by Republicans and more neutral observers. Reid had no special knowledge of Romney’s taxes, and his claims against Romney did not mesh with either the tax return Romney had released or with the analyses of Romney’s taxes done by experts who were better informed on Romney’s finances than Reid. Yet Reid kept it up.
“Let him prove that he has paid taxes—because he hasn’t,” Reid said.
That, of course, is pretty un-American, which was quickly pointed out, as by Peter Roff in U.S. News & World Report: “By challenging Romney to prove his innocence, Reid has turned the traditional American standard of ’innocent until proven otherwise’ on its head, just like [U.S. Sen. Joseph] McCarthy did.”
Reid never apologized. Two years later, the Nevada senator came in for another round of denunciations when he set a lousy example for the nation’s children by arguing that the end justifies the means. “Romney didn’t win, did he?” Reid said when CNN’s Dana Bash asked if Reid regretted what he had said about Romney. “Where to begin?” wrote one Washington Post reporter after reading that amoral comment.
Through all of it, Reid’s fellow Democrats—Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama—stood by him, refusing to criticize his behavior.
Jump forward a few years. “Terrible!” Donald Trump wrote online on March 4. “Just found out that Obama had my ’wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
This was a serious claim. The Obama administration is regarded as perhaps the cleanest in U.S. history. If Trump was undercutting that reputation, he needed to prove his case. Instead, he sent aides out to say things like, “That’s what investigations are for.” Once again, the accuser was not the one providing proof.
Republican legislators Susan Collins, Marco Rubio and others called on Trump to produce evidence. Sen. John McCain said Trump should either produce proof or retract his claim. The House Intelligence Committee gave Trump until March 13 to supply it with proof. Instead, Trump—he lacked the class to do it himself—sent his press secretary out to claim that because Trump put quotation marks around the term “wire tapping,” he didn’t really mean what he was writing. It was, in other words, the text equivalent of air quotes.
Still, good people can be forgiven if they took some satisfaction from the Democrats’ “outrage” this past week, as Donald Trump imitated Harry Reid.