Trump’s taxes

James Fallows on how the Russia imbroglio makes the issue with Trump withholding his taxes even more important:

These new developments underscore the importance of an old, familiar point: now, more than ever, Donald Trump must release his tax returns. To put it differently, the press should no longer “normalize” his stonewalling on this issue.

As another veteran figure in the defense world and political affairs wrote to me this morning:

In normal times, this [the Russian hacking] would be the lead on all network news. But these are not normal times.

I am having trouble getting through to some people that this is a real thing. The very people who always say “follow the money” with regard to the Pentagon [or other boondoggle bureaucracies] don’t see that (a) Trump has been kept afloat for about 15 years by Russian oligarchs; and (b) Russia has a powerful incentive to see a US president who will end economic sanctions.

So Donald Trump should release his tax returns because in modern times that is the basic price-of-entry in national politics. (Along with a plausible — rather thanPyongyang Daily News-style — medical report.) He should do it whether or not Vladimir Putin ever existed or there was any Russian hack. That would be true in any candidate’s case, but especially this one. George Will has come out and saidthat Trump should release his returns because of questions about his ties to “Russian oligarchs.”

With 100-plus days until the election, a nominee about whom there are graver-than-usual financial questions is saying that, unlike previous candidates, he won’t make his finances public.

Matt Yglesias with a really nice piece on all the reasons Trump may have for not wanting to release them.  I honestly believe that it is this last reason:

Trump isn’t that rich

Back before American politics became a remake of The Dead Zone, it was common to speculate that a desire to avoid real financial disclosure was a key reason why Trump would give up the publicity stunt soon enough. In July 2015, for example, BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins wrote that “the ‘financial disclosure’ Trump released this week — declaring $9 billion in assets — more closely resembles a dream board than a set of official financial documents. If he actually discloses his tax returns like a credible, real-life candidate, he risks revealing a messier and more modest personal fortune.”

This is probably the most important one. Trump is clearly a rich man, but he was born rich, so whether his wealth reflects actual business skill hinges crucially on how rich he actually is.

Exactly.  And if Trump is shown to be worth far less than he pretends, that does a lot to pop the bubble of Trump’s persona as a super-successful businessman who really knows what he’s doing (of course, that bubble is fully popped for those actually paying attention, but showing him to be worth far less than he pretends is something that would have much broader resonance).

And Ron Fournier makes the case for how the media could use its leverage to get Trump to release them:

The media is nothing if it can’t hold a presidential candidates accountable—if newsrooms and editorialists can’t force a White House aspirant to keep a promise, uphold precedent, and address suspicions that he’s a tool of Moscow.

Journalism is a joke if we let Donald Trump slide.

And so I have an idea for CNN, MSNBC, FOX News and the three broadcast networks:

Stop interviewing Trump, and stop paying his surrogates, until he releases his tax records…

A TV embargo would starve Trump’s ego, feed his vast insecurities, and rob him of the biggest crutch in his campaign—free media.

It would bend him to the public’s will.

This modest proposal is part of a broader pitch I’ve been making to journalists to“flip the script.” In the White House press corps, especially, I wrote, “journalists are ceding control when they should be seizing it, accepting canned news rather than breaking it.”

The destruction of journalism’s 20th-century business model, the rise of social media, and the professionalism of politics has eroded accountability journalism. There is less traction for the traditional ways of ferreting out wrongdoing, mobilizing public outrage, and forcing change.

So journalism must adapt.

Trump dodges questions about his tax returns. He ignores editorials demanding transparency. He laughs off suggestions that he’s got something to hide.

So political journalism must adapt.

Here’s the thing.  The media won’t really push on this until Democrats do and now, they really just aren’t pushing it that hard.  My intuition is that something in Trump’s tax returns truly will damage his reputation and cause substantial negative media coverage.  If that’s so, such revelations and coverage would be significantly more damaging in the heat of the fall campaign in August or September.  So, strategically speaking, maybe Democrats are just waiting to push on this.  For example, John Kerry was presumably vulnerable on the “Swift Boat” issue all along, but it wasn’t until August 2004 (if I’m recalling correctly) that the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” ads hit the airwaves and blew up the campaign.

If the Democratic Party, SuperPAC’s, etc., run ads and keep pushing the issue, the media will push on it, too, (though, presumably not to the degree Fournier suggests– though they should).  I’m also reminded how way back in 1992 Clinton supporters kept showing up at GHWB events in chicken suits to draw attention to Bush’s unwillingness to debate Clinton.  That was media catnip, and Bush eventually gave in and agreed to three debates (which sure didn’t help him).  So, protesters showing up as human tax returns (or something better, but irresistible to TV news) could help put Trump’s taxes front and center.  Now, maybe, there’s really nothing there.  But when you consider that every modern candidate has released tax returns without a fuss, I’d say it’s a good bet that Trump genuinely has something damaging to hide.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Trump’s taxes

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    I suspect the Putin connection is the biggest bombshell in Trump’s tax returns.
    Altho he currently denies any economic or financial ties with Russia, he did brag about his relationship with Putin a few years ago in connection with the Miss Universe pageant being held in Russia. MSNBC showed a clip of him at the time bragging on that close relationship. I believe this was just a couple of days ago.

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