How should Democrats tackle Trump’s tax story?

You can’t reveal corruption when it is already in plain sight.

Long-concealed records show Trump’s chronic losses and years of tax avoidance” so reports the New York Times.

But is anyone surprised by this?

Almost four years ago to the day, during his debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump bragged about how not paying taxes makes him smart. This might be horrifying to some, but it clearly isn’t to others. Using the extremely unscientific method of looking at social media comments, the response of “I wouldn’t pay tax either if i could get away with it” is a popular one.

In a similar vein to screaming Republican hypocrisy about how they’re handling the vacant Supreme Court seat, screaming corruption at Donald Trump might be cathartic, but I suspect it will also be ineffective.

I think there are three things that should be talked about, though.

  1. Trump can’t handle his own finances, let alone the biggest economy on earth

The only area where Trump leads the former Vice-President is around the question of economic competence. So while drilling down on the $750 federal income tax figure might be tempting, I fear it would produce a similar response of “I would also do that if I could”.

More importantly, the figure belies “hundreds of millions of dollars in debt”. This makes sense, of course. The Trump Hotel in Vancouver has to close permanently earlier this year and his campaign has been ridiculed for somehow burning through nearly one billion dollars.

This is economic incompetence writ-large and after all, it is the economy, stupid.

2. Average Americans simply cannot do this

Everyone hates getting their pay cheque and seeing taxes being taken out of it. But only some people can get away with it. In fact, amassing debts and avoiding taxes is enough to plague the lives of most ordinary people.

But clearly Trump is immune to that. As the report claims, he failed to pay back nearly £300 million since 2010 as well as an additional $56 million in personal loans. This is a particularly timely point considering the ongoing case against former felons being made to pay their fines in order to vote in Florida.

If your name is Donald Trump, you can amass hundreds of millions in debts and become President, if you are former felon in a battleground state with a miniscule fraction of such debt, you’re not even allowed to cast a ballot box, nevermind be on it.

Democrats should also use Amy Coney Barrett’s written dissent on the issue of felons debt to place pressure on her to recuse herself from any future case that Supreme Court might see regarding the election.

The average American has to pay taxes, otherwise the government — Donald Trump’s government — will come after them.

3. Show voters why paying taxes helps everyone

And while no one likes paying taxes, federal income tax pays for things. In 2019, $1 trillion went to social security which supported “3 million spouses and children of retired workers, 6 million surviving children and spouses of deceased workers, and 10 million disabled workers” (Source).

And that is not to mention the “82 million low-income children, parents, elderly people, and people with disabilities” who receive benefits as a result of federal income tax income. That’s over 100 million Americans a year accessing life-changing treatment.

By not paying his fair share, Trump withheld funding for those services, and deprived vulnerable Americans, several of whom would have voted for him. In other words, Trump helped to defund healthcare.

The good news for Democrats is they don’t have to change the dial too much. With a little over one month until election day, Joe Biden maintains a healthy lead over Donald Trump. As do several Democrat Senate candidates such as John Hickenlooper, Mark Kelly, and Sara Gideon, with other candidates like Theresa Greenfield, Cal Cunningham, and even Jamie Harrison pushing their opponents close.

Of course, all this comes at the eve of the first debate which for months has been the source of hope amongst Republicans and the Twitter commentariat. I wouldn’t be so sure. The bar has been set so incredibly low for Joe Biden that it will be virtually impossible not to clear. The President has even accused opponent of taking performance enhancing drugs (talking of drugs: has the President seen this video of his son?)

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll though reveals that for a plurality of voters, the debates are “not at all important”. Similarly, a Quinnipiac poll revealed 94% of likely voters had already made their mind up.

All of this is to serve as a word of tempered caution for Democrats. For years they have been trying to get hold of Donald Trump’s tax smoking gun. But the story of the campaign has been an unprecedentedly consistent lead for Joe Biden, virtually regardless of what else has happened.

200,000 Americans have died of Coronavirus, the economy has plunged into shambles, and the reputation of the country has gone into free-fall across the globe. Biden — as one would expect — is leading. But Trump still garners the support of just over 40% of voters and is viewed favourably by a similar number. The Democrats might be able to peel some more support away from the dwindling group of persuadable voters if they pitch it right, but the campaign so far implies that is unlikely.

But hey, with Joe Biden comfortably ahead, I think they’ll be quite content with that.

Written by

Writing on US politics from across the pond. Occasional comments in the build up to the 2020 election week. Views rarely my own. Especially the funny ones.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store