Even Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s normally ebullient campaign manager, must be thinking it’s been an awful week. There was his horrendous debate performance on Monday, then the ridiculous week-long row over beauty queen Alicia Machado, and now the New York Times has splashed the story that Trump may have avoided paying federal tax for 18 years.
Of these three, the Times story is probably the least damaging. Nobody thinks Donald Trump a dedicated socialist; he certainly isn’t ashamed of ducking his fiscal responsibilities. As he put it in the debate when Clinton accused him of avoiding tax, ‘that makes me smart’. The Machado spat — and his extraordinary 3am outburst on Twitter– was worse news for Team Trump, in that it destroyed an impression that had built up over recent weeks that the campaign had become slicker. In recent weeks, pundits and politicos have taken to applauding Trump’s ‘message discipline’. No longer.
The NYT’s latest tax story doesn’t actually reveal too much dirt, but it does remind people that Trump is a shady character. Even in government-averse America, the thought of a very rich man who does not pay his taxes can annoy the poor people who do — and Trump cannot win unless he gets a huge share of the badly off, badly educated vote
Moreover, the tax story exposes the deeper, structural flaw in Trump’s candidacy, which is that it is a big fat joke. Here is a Republican candidate who has just made #followthemoney a campaign slogan, to highlight Clinton’s dodgy ties to Wall Street. And yet he is the first major party nominee not to release his tax returns since 1976. This hypocrisy would be shocking, if it wasn’t so glaring as to be hilarious.