Late Saturday, the New York Times broke the story
on Donald Trump's billion-dollar loss in 1995 and his apparent 18-year period of not paying federal income taxes. The immediate response from the Republican campaign was ... odd. Neither Trump nor anyone associated with his operation denied the accuracy of the reporting or the authenticity of the document obtained by the Times
.Instead, by Sunday morning, the best Trump's surrogates could come up with was assertions that the GOP candidate is a "genius
" for exploiting tax laws and letting others pay federal income taxes while Trump paid nothing.After taking a couple of days to craft a more detailed response, the Republican nominee took his pitch to Pueblo, Colorado, where NBC News' Ali Vitali reported
on Trump's best attempt at spin.
Donald Trump on Monday sought to turn an October surprise to his advantage, spinning his recently uncovered tax returns and losses in the 1990s as an American comeback story that could be writ large for the country.Responding on the trail for the first time to a New York Times report on his leaked 1995 tax returns, Trump made the case for his loss of $916 million as the cost of doing business in a period of economic downturn and painted himself as an all but written off businessman who came back to win against all odds.
Let's break down Trump's response into its component parts, because in some respects, the candidate's response to the questions is actually worse than the underlying controversy itself.1. Trump said his businesses struggled in the mid-1990s because the economy was in terrible shape. That's not even close
to being true.2. Trump said he had a "fiduciary responsibility" to reduce his tax bill to its lowest possible point. That's also plainly false
.3. Trump acknowledged the "unfairness of the tax laws," but said his first-hand experience has left him well positioned to pursue needed reforms. That might be a compelling pitch, except the Trump campaign's proposed tax policies would actually make the system even less fair
. In fact, the Republican candidate wants to keep many of the same loopholes in place that he personally benefited from, all while tilting the playing field even more heavily in favor of the wealthy.4. Reflecting on his failures, Trump struck a relatively conciliatory tone, conceding
, "I was young and you have to learn." But the year in which he lost $916 million, Trump was 49 years old. "I was young" makes it sound like he was a clumsy teenager who hadn't yet learned about business.Where's the persuasive part of the candidate's response? There is no persuasive part. Vox's Matt Yglesias added
Under attack, he simply mentally rewrites everything, from the First Amendment to US economic history, to retroactively justify his own personal self-interest.And yet looking back, he can't even admit the obvious reality that he opted out of paying taxes because he could get away with it, not because he was under some obligation. Trump is Trump, and every new story -- and Trump's reaction to every new story -- just confirms how deeply and profoundly Trumpy he continues to be.
Keep in mind, the Times story broke on Saturday night, and Trump delivered his retort via teleprompter in Colorado last night. In other words, he and his team had 48 hours to make their best possible case. They had time to review the records, collect documents and materials, analyze the economic conditions, and scrutinize the available reporting word by word, looking for inaccuracies.This, alas, was best defense they could come up with -- which suggests there is no good defense for Trump's practices.