Translation: I can’t afford to lose three debates in a row.

Gov. Mitt Romney said Sunday he will release his tax returns on Tuesday as he tries to pivot from an issue that dragged him down in his South Carolina primary loss to Newt Gingrich.

Romney said he’ll post his 2010 tax return and 2011 estimate online Tuesday, after he was hammered by his rivals and gave awkward debate answers last week as he said he would release his tax returns in April.

“I think we made a mistake holding off as long as we did,” Romney said in an interview on Fox News Sunday. “It was a distraction. We want to get back to the real issues of the campaign.”

Newt Gingrich says that this will put the issue “set to side.”  That may or may not be true about the taxes themselves; after all, the whole point of demanding their release is to play class-warfare games over incomes and tax rates.  If Romney’s tax rate is 15%, partisans on all sides will point to that and claim it shows that Romney’s out of touch when (a) Republicans have been arguing over whether or not to lower the capital-gains tax rate that Romney paid, and (b) even Democrats aren’t too keen on raising it in a stagnant economy.  Just as with the Bain debate, the willingness of Republicans to engage in these class-warfare attacks has been pretty disheartening, to say the least.

The issue of Romney’s campaign strategy and reactive ability will still be on the table, however.  Romney admitted that he made a mistake in keeping the tax returns off the table, especially since he essentially conceded the legitimacy of the request in the first debate.  Why didn’t the campaign move to defuse the issue by the second debate by promising to give South Carolinians an opportunity to access those records?  He probably wouldn’t have won the state, but he might have won a few delegates in a closer vote, which would have given him an opportunity to put a better face on the loss.  They’ll defuse it well before the Florida debates, but I assume that their issue polling in the Sunshine State told the campaign that they would face a similar problem if Romney continued to answer “maybe” to the question.

Update: The Daily Caller has the video: