Last week, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, attempted to definitively shut down conversation over Trump’s tax returns.
Manafort told CBS this Morning that Trump’s taxes are “under audit and he will not be releasing them.” Next question.
This isn’t breaking news; we’ve known for a while that Trump is an auditee. He’s said repeatedly that he’s been a victim of a “very unfair government audit.”
In a CNN interview back in February, Trump told a reporter that his audit was possibly due to the fact that he is a “strong Christian.”
The Internal Revenue Service isn’t prohibiting Trump from releasing his taxes; in fact, President Richard Nixon was audited in 1973 and he released his financial documents, reasoning, “People have got to know whether their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.”
By refusing to give up his tax returns, Trump is bucking a tradition that goes back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Each nominee in the last nine presidential elections has released his tax returns.
Making these personal records available to the scrutiny of the public is a sacrifice of privacy to be sure, but presidential candidates have done it in good faith, just as they reveal the results of physical examinations.
Candidates have long understood that voters want a look-see under the hood.
A voter uses tax returns to gauge how generous candidates have been, see what kind of investments they’ve made, and confirm that, indeed, they have paid their fair share of taxes.
At least those were yesteryear’s reasons, back when candidates followed a careful script all the way to the White House.
To say the political landscape is different this year needs little explanation. Trump has a playbook all his own, casting himself as the anti-candidate. Supporters would tell you this is part of his charm.
He doesn’t play nice; he says what he wants, and answers to nobody, not even the six in 10 voters who have yet to commit to a candidate, but believe Trump should release his taxes; this according to a recent Washington Post poll.
Almost half of Republicans polled said they, too, want Trump to release his tax returns before the November election.
But asking Trump to reveal his tax returns is a bit like straightening a picture frame in a tornado-ravaged house.
Sure, it will help, but look around. Trump’s noncompliance over tax disclosure is just one of the many criticisms launched against him.
The danger is Trump fatigue. The danger is we become so desensitized to this new kind of candidate that we stop calling for common practice. A tax return is necessary data; on that we should insist.
Even Mitt Romney, who wasn’t proud of his own 14 percent tax rate, has publicly come out requesting that Trump disclose his taxes, saying, “I predict there are more bombshells in his tax returns.”
The bombshells in Trump’s returns may be that he is worth less money than his bravado implies. Or it may be that he’s had unscrupulous financial ties with Russia, or that he’s paid next to nothing in taxes.
Because Trump won’t release his returns, we can only speculate.
Up until recently, Trump has stood impervious to bombshells. He’s spent a tumultuous political season riding around in the political equivalent of Vladimir Putin’s Wunderwaffe.
It’s only lately that Trump’s unflinchingly consistent swagger has caused him to suffer. According to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll, Hillary Clinton now holds a 15-point lead.
Trump can start to right his ship by becoming a more disciplined candidate and by disclosing his taxes. And while he’s at it, he should list his assets and turn over his portfolio to a third-party trustee.
Should this unconventional billionaire businessman become president, the country needs assurannce that his attention will be on our Capitol and not his own.