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Ahead of debate, Biden and Harris release their 2019 tax returns

It's not unusual for presidential campaigns to get in some 11th-hour digs at their rivals ahead of a debate. Some are smarter than others.
Image: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris
Former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., during a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., on Aug. 12, 2020.Carolyn Kaster / AP

It's not unusual for presidential campaigns to get in some 11th-hour digs at their rivals ahead of a debate. There is, however, a smart way to do this and a foolish way.

Four years ago, Donald Trump tried the latter approach, organizing a pre-debate press conference with women who'd accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. It served no real purpose and advanced no obvious message: Bill Clinton wasn't running for anything, and controversies surrounding his personal life had no connection to the 2016 race. Voters tuning in to the theatrics had no idea what it was they were supposed to take away from the gathering.

As pre-debate trolling goes, this is much smarter.

Former Vice President Joe Biden released his 2019 tax returns on Tuesday, showing that he paid nearly $300,000 in federal taxes, seeking to draw a contrast with President Trump in the hours before their first debate.... Mr. Biden's campaign said his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, was also releasing her 2019 tax returns with her husband, Doug Emhoff, a lawyer who has taken leave from his position as a partner with the firm DLA Piper.

If anyone's interested in the details, Biden's 2019 return is online here, while Harris' 2019 return is online here. (The former vice president has also publicly released state and federal tax returns from the last several years, posting them online for public review. In all, Biden has disclosed 22 years' worth of tax returns, while Harris has released 15 years' worth.)

The tactical significance isn't subtle: Trump is suddenly caught up in a major and unexpected controversy surrounding his hidden finances, and his Democratic rival is eager to create a contrast between his commitment to transparency and the incumbent president's unexplained secrecy.

But there's no reason to stop there. The Biden/Harris disclosures showed that the Democratic ticket paid vastly more in federal taxes than Trump did in 2016 and 2017, when the Republican mysteriously paid just $750 each year to Uncle Sam.

A New York Times report added, "Mr. Biden's release of his most recent tax return seemed timed to place even more focus on Mr. Trump's taxes and keep him on the defensive about them going into the debate."

Yeah, I think that's a safe bet.