Now that Donald Trump has been humiliatingly exposed — yet again — as this nation’s quintessential grifter, as a plutocratic screwup who lost $1.17 billion in 10 years, a guy who seems fated to sing a certain Beatles song (“I’m a loser / and I’m not what I appeared to be”), it’s tempting to believe that some of his cultists will finally awaken to the long-obvious evidence that they have been conned.
After all, Trump touted himself as the peerless master of the universe, declaring at the dawn of his ’16 candidacy, “I’m the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far. Nobody’s ever been more successful than me. I’m the most successful person ever to run.” Is it possible that some of his hardworking cultists, who live within their means and pay their taxes like good Americans, will recoil from the revelation that their hero was so broke, so drowning in tides of red ink, that he paid zero income taxes in eight of the 10 years between 1985 and 1994?
Neera Tanden, president of the liberal Center for American Progress, seems to think so. She said last night, “I saw focus groups of Trump voters in 2016. They thought the fact that he was a hugely successful businessman would make him a successful president. The fact he was a loser in business will hurt him.”
Nah, she’s wrong. Trump voters won’t care. For three interrelated reasons:
They dwell within the Fox News bubble. So despite the fact that The New York Times obtained and analyzed 10 years of highly damaging tax documents (including detailed evidence that Trump repeatedly hemorrhaged his daddy’s money), his core electorate will automatically discount the story. In a tweet early this morning, Trump appeared to confirm the story’s accuracy, insisting that he reported heavy losses year after year to the IRS because “it was sport.” But in the same tweet, he assailed the story as “a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job,” and that should be good enough for the cultists. Indeed, here’s what a blondette said today on “Fox & Friends,” and I swear I’m not making this up: “If anything, you read this (story) and you’re like, ‘wow, it’s pretty impressive, all the things that he’s done in his life.’ It’s beyond what most of us could ever achieve!”
They’ve never wanted to vet Trump’s alleged credentials. Back in September 2016, during the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton laid out everything that we’re still talking about today: “Why won’t he release his tax returns?… Maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is…or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes…I think probably he’s not all that enthusiastic about having the rest of our country see what the real reasons are, because it must be something really important, even terrible, that he’s trying to hide.” But because Trump’s voters hated Hillary on sight, they were deaf to her words.
They love how Trump beat the system; they wish they could be him. That’s the bottom line. Real and fabled criminals and rogues, from Al Capone to Walter White, have enjoyed huge popularity. Even if Trump’s voters were to admit, deep down, that the guy has conned them out of their socks, they’ll love him anyway for sticking it to the IRS. If only they had the cajones to do what he did. And remember what he said during that first debate, when Hillary suspected that he’d “paid nothing in federal taxes”? He proudly interrupted: “That makes me smart!” He knows instinctively that his worshipful “forgotten American” would love to outsmart the IRS and buy gold fixtures for the bathroom.
So, no, the Trump cultists won’t care about the latest tax revelations. But at this point, why should we care what they think? Far weightier issues are in play.
The House Ways and Means Committee is currently seeking six years of Trump’s federal tax returns, for reasons that should be obvious: If indeed it’s true that Trump has been a failed capitalist for much of his career (as detailed by the Times story), so egregiously bad that American banks will no longer lend him money (a fact we’ve long known), what would a guy hooked on an image of success be willing to do to maintain that image? With whom would he be willing to do business? How susceptible would he be to manipulation from foreign intelligence operatives? Didn’t one of Trump’s sons reveal years ago that Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets”? (Yes indeed.) As Hillary said in that first ’16 debate, “I think the question is, were he ever to get near the White House, what would be those conflicts? Who does he owe money to?”
And yet, Trump’s manservant at the Treasury Department, Stephen Mnuchin, is refusing to hand over those requested tax returns — despite a 90-year-old federal law that requires him to do so. The language in that law is clear, at least to anyone who owns a dictionary. It says that the House panel is empowered to demand “any return or return information,” and that Treasury “shall furnish” it.
Trump’s fans may not care about any of this — they’re eternally tethered to the delusion that he’s a winner — but the rest of us can take comfort in knowing that the incremental vetting process, while three years tardy, is stripping him bare.