A brutal week for Trump
With just over a month until Election Day, Donald Trump endured one of the worst weeks of his presidential campaign, with a series of setbacks that included a leaked tax return showing he once lost nearly $1 billion in a year, an angry feud with a former Venezuelan beauty queen, and a sharp decline in the polls. Three pages of Trump’s 1995 tax return, which was anonymously mailed to The New York Times, showed that Trump declared a $916 million net operating loss in 1995—a loss so great he could have legally avoided paying federal income taxes for the next 18 years. The Republican nominee didn’t deny that he hadn’t paid income taxes during that time, and said his deep understanding of the tax laws made him “the only one who can fix them.” Hillary Clinton mocked Trump’s surrogates’ claim that he was a “genius” for minimizing his tax exposure, saying, “What kind of genius loses a billion dollars in a single year?”
In a series of predawn tweets, Trump took Clinton’s bait from their first debate and stepped up his attacks on Alicia Machado, the winner of his 1996 Miss Universe competition. Clinton cited Machado in the debate as an example of Trump’s sexism, saying the businessman called her “Miss Piggy” when she gained weight after winning the competition. To get back at Machado for helping the Clinton campaign, the Republican nominee tweeted that the former beauty queen was “disgusting,” had a shady past, and urged his followers to “check out [her] sex tape,” a reference to a racy but nonexplicit encounter on a reality TV show. In other developments, Newsweek reported that Trump violated the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba in 1998, and an Associated Press investigation found that he “repeatedly demeaned” female staff and contestants on The Apprentice with lewd comments about their bodies.
Having gone into the first debate almost even with Clinton in the RealClearPolitics national poll average, Trump now trails, 48 percent to 44. Clinton also regained or expanded her lead in several battleground states, including Pennsylvania (by 4.4 points), Colorado (3.3), and Florida (2.8). Trump still leads in Ohio (2.4) and Iowa (5).
What the editorials said
Trump always claims his business acumen “makes him uniquely qualified to fix the country’s problems,” said The New York Times. “We can dispense with that fiction now.” His $916 million loss, which probably stemmed from his illfated entry into the airline business and his “disastrous” Atlantic City casino empire, represents “an epic failure.” If he did use the loss to avoid taxes on future income, he wasn’t breaking any laws—but he was relying on the government to bail him out of “his catastrophically bad business decisions.” No ordinary taxpayer can expect a massive “handout” like that.
Let’s cut the “synthetic shock and outrage,” said The Wall Street Journal. Every self-employed American knows business losses are deductible, because the cycle of investments and sales “isn’t confined to a calendar tax year.” Nevertheless, the partial release of Trump’s tax returns was “all too predictable.” When he refused to release his returns, he essentially gave an open invitation to hackers and leakers to hit him with an “October surprise.”
Trump’s “sexist and degrading”comments about Machado prove yet again that he is unfit for the Oval Office, said the Los Angeles Times. Trump is simply “incapable of overlooking a perceived slight or moderating his response.” Those are “dangerous qualities in a president.”
What the columnists said
Years ago, I saw Trump’s full tax returns, and they showed that his career is “built on sand,” said Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien in BloombergView.com. In the 1990s, he overpaid for “almost everything he bought”—casinos, hotels, yachts, airlines, you name it. And the notion he is “financially sophisticated” enough to reform our byzantine tax code is laughable: In my interviews with him, his eyes glazed over “when complex numbers came into play.” He relies on accountants and lawyers. Trump’s promise to “fix” the tax code is just another of his brazen lies, said Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post. The tax plan he’s released would reduce the tax rate for businesses like the Trump Organization to “as low as 15 percent.” He’s also proposed eliminating the estate tax, which would save the beneficiaries of his will an estimated $7 billion.
There’s no scandal in Trump’s tax return, said David Harsanyi in TheFederalist.com. Our tax law permits losses to be carried forward for years for a good reason: It helps keep job-creating businesses afloat. Besides, it’s every American’s “patriotic duty to do everything within the bounds of the law to avoid enriching a wasteful, bloated, and intrusive government.”
Trump will find the second debate even harder than the first, said Paul Waldman in Washington Post.com. The Oct. 9 face-off has a town hall format, with undecided voters asking most of the questions. That setup definitely favors Clinton, who has the policy smarts to handle any topic thrown at her, and who excels at connecting with people one-to-one. Trump, in contrast, rarely talks directly to individual voters, and may struggle to “communicate with some measure of empathy.” The Republican nominee does hold one advantage, said Benjy Sarlin and Alex Seitz-Wald in NBCNews.com. After what might have been “the worst week in presidential campaign history,” people’s expectations for Trump are “on the ocean floor.”
With polls showing Clinton regaining a comfortable lead, Democratic panic is easing, said Ed Kilgore in NYMag.com. She’s now essentially “where Barack Obama wound up against Mitt Romney in 2012.” Clinton is also benefiting from “a slow and steady decline in the minor-party vote,” with Gary Johnson and Jill Stein now combining for less than 10 percent in poll averages. For those who are terrified by the prospect of a Trump presidency, what this means is that “the wolf is still at the door,” howling in frustration, and “time’s running out for the beast to figure out a way to get in.”
Illustration by Fred Harper. Cover photos from AP, Newscom, Getty