Politics & Policy

GOP Chumps for Trump

(Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

On the topic of releasing his tax returns, Donald Trump changed his mind so often last week that it left observers suffering from whiplash.

His latest answer came on Friday, when he told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that he doesn’t believe voters have a right to his tax returns before they vote. When Stephanopoulos asked his what tax rate he paid, he answered, “It’s none of your business.” Trump then claimed he’d be happy to release his tax returns from 2009 on — after the IRS has finished auditing them. In the meantime, previous returns can’t be released, he said, because they are linked to the more current ones.

Timothy O’Brien, a New York Times reporter sued by Trump for questioning his net worth in TrumpNation, his 2005 book, thinks he knows why. “As someone who saw Trump’s federal tax returns about a decade ago as part of a legal action in which he sued me for libel (the suit was later dismissed), I think there probably are some things to be learned from them,” O’Brien wrote last week in a Chicago Tribune op-ed last week. “The tax returns my lawyers and I reviewed were sealed, and a court order prevents me from speaking or writing about the specifics of what I saw.”

‐ O’Brien noted that Fortune magazine’s Shawn Tully said in March that Trump “appears to have overstated his income, by a lot, which could be the reason he has so far tried to avoid releasing his returns.” Tully reported that Trump apparently combines revenue from his hundreds of businesses with his personal income, an accounting no-no. Trump probably had just a third of the $362 million in 2014 income that he claimed, Tully concluded. Trump declined to respond to questions about Tully’s article when it came out.

RELATED: Trump’s Refusal to Release Tax Returns Is a Ticking Time Bomb for the GOP

‐Trump claims that the employs thousands of people in his worldwide empire. His returns could show whether he is “operating businesses overseas at the expense of jobs for U.S. workers,” which Trump has rebuked Fortune 500 companies for doing. Seeing his returns, O’Brien wrote, “would help substantiate the actual size and scope of his operation.”

‐ Trump has said that he personally donated $102 million to charities over the past five years – including hefty sums to veterans’ groups. But O’Brien observed that “it’s been hard to find concrete evidence to support the assertion.” Ted Cruz also suggested on the campaign trail that it’s also possible that Trump, a registered Democrat until late 2009, has donated money to prominent liberal groups such as Planned Parenthood.

RELATED: If Trump Won’t Release Tax Returns, His Delegates Should Abstain on the First Ballot

‐ Trump has boasted at dinner parties in New York that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretaries. If true, that would remind people of the late real-estate mogul Leona Helmsley’s assertion that “only little people pay taxes.”

‐ On Thursdays, the New York Daily News added to the criticisms: “Tax experts credibly speculate that Trump may have claimed his entire luxury, jet-setting persona as business, potentially putting true taxpayers on the hook for subsidizing his private plane travel. Or that he may have used the mother of all tax breaks, one aimed at real estate types, to reduce his IRS bill to zero.”

#share#All the unanswered questions about Trump’s tax returns, in addition to evidence accumulated during O’Brien’s libel trial that Trump is a serial fabricator, suggest that it would be political folly for GOP delegates to nominate Trump without seeing his tax returns. Hillary Clinton is already making political hay with Trump’s taxes. In a devastating ad that opens with the question “Why won’t Donald Trump release his tax returns?” she skewers Trump for his secrecy. Of course, by pointing the finger at Trump, she conveniently sidesteps the many questions about her own dishonesty and secrecy.

Hillary Clinton is already making political hay with Trump’s taxes.

“With a crew of Lois Lerners running the IRS, those returns surely will leak right after the nomination is made formal,” Quin Hillyer wrote Wednesday at National Review. After all, someone in the IRS did precisely that in 2012, illegally leaking tax information about Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney had delayed releasing his returns until late in the campaign, and the Democrats gleefully used the leaked tax info against him.

Trump himself went on television at the time to rip Romney for delaying release of his tax returns, saying he “was hurt very badly” by that. At times, Trump has not hesitated to let others see his tax returns, as he did when he applied for casino licenses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. His taxes were then being audited by state authorities. This prompted Leonardo Postrado, at the casino-news website CalvinAyre.com, to sniff,  “Unless you are a state gambling official, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump will never show you his tax returns.”

#related#A group of advisers appointed by Trump are currently reviewing potential vice-presidential running mates for him. As a matter of due diligence, those applying will be asked to surrender their tax returns, something the man at the top of the ticket won’t do.

Republicans who are surrendering to the inevitability of a Trump nomination are ignoring just how effective the Democrats will be in dredging up fair and unfair attacks on their nominee — attacks that could drag several GOP senators and other office-holders down to defeat with Trump. As John Cassidy pointed out in the New Yorker: “Every aspect of his persona is going to be examined anew.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. As I wrote in National Review last week:

The best estimates are that Trump will finish the primaries in June with fewer than 100 delegates above the minimum number of 1,237 needed to nominate a candidate. But 40 percent of Trump delegates won’t be personal supporters of the Manhattan mogul (ditto with the alternates elected to accompany the delegates and vote in their place if they can’t). If even a portion of them apply pressure on Trump to deliver on his year-old promise to release his tax returns, he might have to cry uncle.

If Republicans don’t do all they can to figure out just what Donald Trump is hiding, they will be violating a cardinal rule of politics: Don’t drive over an electoral cliff when there is still time to brake or turn in a different direction. Right now, all of the savvy politicos lining up like lemmings for the presumptive nominee are acting like Chumps for Trump.

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