Trump's tax leak won't turn the election

29 September 2020

2:18 AM

29 September 2020

2:18 AM

Donald Trump has a lot to worry about these days. The man who is deathly afraid of being ‘a loser’ could be weeks away from losing in the most visible way to Joe Biden, a competitor Trump has blatantly suggested may be taking performance-enhancing drugs to stay awake on the campaign trail. 

He is facing an ongoing coronavirus crisis in the United States which passed the 200,000 fatality mark last week. The polls aren’t looking great for the President either; the Washington Post released a survey on Sunday showing Biden up 10-points nationally. The last thing Trump needed was another public relations fire to put out.

But then the New York Times published a months-long investigation on Trump’s history of dodging taxes. The story dominated the President’s news conference on Sunday, where he eviscerated the Times for making up stories to bring him down. You can be sure that Joe Biden and his team are sitting in debate prep, pouring over every line.

The story itself is steeped in technical innuendo. If you aren’t a tax attorney or a finance buff, you might fall asleep before reaching the end. But the bottom-line conclusion is unmistakable: Trump has lost so much money on his business ventures over the years that he was able to avoid paying federal income taxes. In 2017, Trump’s total federal income tax bill was only $750 (£580), about as much as some Americans pay for health insurance on a monthly basis. He is the subject of an audit for a $72.9 million (£58 million) tax refund he received from the federal government in 2010. Trump was off-the-hook for federal income taxes for 11 out of the 18 years the Times examined in its report. Meanwhile, he continued spending lavishly on haircuts and private aircraft, where he wrote off the costs as a business expense.

While the details are interesting, the story itself shouldn’t be a surprise to most Americans. Trump’s personal and business finances were a source of intrigue long before he became a politician. Now that Trump is in the White House, of course, the intrigue has snowballed to a different level. Democrats will have a field day with these latest disclosures for the next few days in their ongoing quest to categorise the President as someone who games the system for his own personal benefit. Trump has heard all of it before; the question is whether he is willing to go toe-to-toe with Biden on the issue during this week’s debate if the former vice president brings it up. Given how Trump has operated over the last 40 years, the answer is pretty self-explanatory.

In the end, the tax story is highly unlikely to alter the presidential race. A good chunk of the American electorate already knows which candidate they’ll support this November. The people who love Trump will always be with him, come hell or high water. The people who revile him would vote for a pumpkin if that was the only alternative. If there are any Americans who are still deciding, they either haven’t paid much attention to the gutter mess that is US politics in the first place or have become so disillusioned that they are turning off their TVs and keeping their heads down. 

And given the ugly cage match between Trump and Biden that will ensue this Tuesday night, you can’t blame them.

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