Donald Trump, breaking with an American political tradition that began when President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew were revealed to be criminal tax cheats, has so far refused to disclose his tax returns.
One massively plausible explanation: He hasn’t paid taxes—or not very often. As I showed in a previous Daily Beast column, there is strong evidence that Trump cheated on his 1984 tax return. And that he paid no taxes at all in at least four other years.
Hillary Clinton, who has released her complete tax returns back to when she lived in Arkansas, and her surrogates are going to pound Trump at every turn for not releasing his tax returns. They will also likely suggest he is a tax cheat, perhaps drawing on my previous column citing strong evidence that Trump cheated on his 1984 tax return, and other official reports establishing he has had tax-free years.
But there is a way for Trump to turn this political liability into a vote-generating asset.
The first step is to tell people he’s going to reveal how much he paid in income taxes, being careful not to say “tax returns,” going back to 1978.
Next, Trump attacks, railing against Congress doing tax favors for donors. He could single out Mitt Romney, who probably paid little or no federal income taxes during the decade when he was not just the manager of Bain Capital Management, but its sole owner.
Then Trump tells people to look at their paychecks and dream about what they could do with all the money the IRS takes. To bring their paychecks to rallies and he could hold one up and ask why working people get paid only after Uncle Sam, but hedge and private equity fund managers delay paying their taxes for years and years.
After a week or so of this, Trump asks the networks for live prime time to deliver “the most important announcement ever,” daring them to air summer reruns instead.
Speaking, with a teleprompter, from one of the symbols of his wealth—Trump Tower, Mar-A-Lago or inside his Boeing 757—Trump speaks. Here’s my draft of his address:
I’m going to tell you one of the great secrets of America. It’s a secret the politicians in Washington are never going to tell you because, folks, they don’t know what’s going on. They are passing laws and they don’t even know what they are doing. They don’t even read them.
Those reporters aren’t going to tell you, either. Because they don’t know anything except how to make me look bad when I’m trying to help you because those reporters, a few are good, most of them don’t care about you. The lyin’ press.
And Hillary, Lyin’ Crooked Hillary, for sure is never going to tell you the truth. You know why? Because if she told you the truth I’m about to tell you she’d never get another million from Goldman Sachs. They paid her millions and millions and millions of dollars for speeches and she won’t even show you the transcripts.
Now let me tell you this secret that the politicians and the press and especially Lyin’ Hillary are keeping from you: Many, many rich people in America don’t pay income taxes. They don’t. Or they pay almost nothing, almost nothing.
It’s true. Now some rich people pay lots of taxes. They’re losers, rich losers like Mark Cuban and Martha Stewart. But many rich people don’t pay income taxes. They’re the winners, but they win only because Lyin’ Hillary and her friends won’t tell you the truth.
They don’t pay taxes because they get little changes in the law so they don’t have to. All legal. A few words here, some mumbo jumbo there. Ol’ Mitt was never going to show you what he paid in taxes because he paid next to nothing or maybe nothing at all when he was in private equity.
Private equity, those guys who send our jobs to China, and Congress lets them make millions and pay nothing in taxes. Nothing. They send our jobs to China and they don’t even have to pay income taxes.
It’s terrible folks, it’s just terrible—and we have to stop it.
Why do you think Goldman paid Lyin’ Hillary all that money? Do you think she knows anything about business? She couldn’t even run the State Department without getting our people killed. Do you think she told Goldman freaking Sachs anything they didn’t already know? Folks, they were buying her, buying her silence just like her silence on those missing emails. Well, maybe they were just renting her, I don’t know.
Now I’m telling you this because I’m going to change that. The very first thing I’m going to do in January is make your taxes so small you won’t mind the little tiny bit Uncle Sam takes. Most of you paying taxes aren’t going to pay one dollar anymore, not a cent.
You’re going to be winners. It’s going to feel good. It’s going to feel so good you won’t be able to stand it. Your kids are going be happy. You’re going be happy, It will feel so, so good.
Now for me, well, it’s going to hurt. It is really going to hurt. But you know what it’s the right thing to do. And I can afford it. I’ve 10 billion dollars—actually, folks, it’s more than that. More than 10 billion dollars, so I can afford it. Believe me, folks, I can afford it.
And you know how I got 10 billion dollars? Well not paying any income taxes for almost 40 years helped a lot.
And, folks, it was legal. It was all perfectly legal. That’s because Lyin’ Hillary’s friends in Washington, they put in all these tax rules and laws and regulations that destroy small businesses, that punish you for working hard. Hillary wants to keep things that way. She wants to squeeze you and squeeze you and make you pay more and more.
Now the truth, the awful terrible truth, is that I haven’t paid income taxes in years. I haven’t had to, just like so many of my richest friends. They haven’t had to, either. And it’s all legal, folks. It’s all perfectly legal. It really should be a crime.
Now that’s wrong. It is absolutely wrong. I should have to pay taxes. And I will pay taxes, lots and lots and lots of taxes. Do you have any idea how much in taxes I’m going to have to pay? A lot, let me tell you, a lot.
You know that picture I put on Twitter of me signing my tax return? When I sat down I had to look up to see the top of the pile. So much paperwork. We’ve got to take our country back.
Now I’m not going to show all those papers because they wouldn’t tell you anything. There’s nothing there, folks. But I will tell you this and you can believe me. You can believe me:
I have not paid income taxes in almost 40 years. Not one dollar.
And it was all legal and it’s got to stop. It’s going hurt me. It’s going hurt a lot of people at Goldman Sachs and Ol’ Mitt and a lot of other people. But you’ll feel so good when your taxes are less, so much less.
Think about all the taxes you’ve paid. Look at your paycheck. Get good and mad. Really mad. Show you aren’t going to take it anymore. Just give me your vote and I’ll stop this and you will all be such winners, such winners. And you’ll feel so good, I promise you, that you won’t be able to stand it.
A speech like that, after laying the groundwork, could turn Trump from what the the polls indicate today will be a big-time loser in November into the next president of the United States.
And if he actually fulfilled that promise, it would make for a healthier economy, too.