Trump surrogates and Republican lawmakers are scrambling to respond — or to avoid responding — to what has been a very rough week for Donald Trump. His recent troubles began with a debate performance widely acknowledged as lacking, and peaked with this weekend’s revelation in the New York Times that the businessman claimed nearly $1 billion in losses on his 1995 tax returns, meaning he may have avoided paying any federal-income tax at all for 18 years.
As usual, Rudy Giuliani was among the most outspoken in his defense of the Republican candidate, going so far as to call him “a genius” in a CNN interview on Sunday.
“The man’s a genius. He knows how to operate the tax code to the benefit of the people he’s serving,” Giuliani told Jake Tapper. When pressed by Tapper, he refused to back down, saying, “It shows what a genius he is. It shows he was able to preserve his enterprise and that he was able to build it.”
This take on the tax returns — that losing almost $1 billion and getting out of paying a generation’s worth of taxes makes Trump a shrewd businessman and gifted CEO — quickly became the official line of the Trump campaign. Trump surrogates and even the candidate himself parroted — read: tweeted — the talking point.
Speaking on Fox News, Trump’s loyal ally Chris Christie repeated that Trump has shown “genius” in avoiding paying his taxes and somehow even managed to make it seem that Trump was doing working people a favor in bringing the unfair tax system to their attention. “He’s already promised in his tax plan to change many of these special interest loopholes and get rid of them so you don’t have this kind of situation,” Christie said. “This is a tax code that people in America suffer under every day. And so, it’s an awful thing.”
And then of course, there is Ann Coulter, who just doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. “No one cares, except the media. There was enough on that during the debate,” she said in an interview with The Guardian. “Can we please move on to the issues? No. One. Cares.”
While the Trump camp seemed united in its response, other Republican lawmakers and power-players in the GOP apparently decided that the best response was no response at all. Most are doing anything they can to dodge questions about Trump’s debate performance, his Twitter tirade against former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, a recent incoherent rally appearance, and his leaked tax returns.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is reportedly refusing to talk about Donald Trump at all while House Speaker Paul Ryan confessed that he only speaks to Trump “maybe every two weeks.”
Prominent Republicans are using any excuse they can think of to avoid talking about Trump’s recent behavior. Marco Rubio claimed that he didn’t even watch the debate because he was “on an airplane,” while Ryan said he missed Trump’s most recent Twitter meltdown because he was working out.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Matt Borges, the Republican Party chair in the closely contested battleground state of Ohio, was at least more forthcoming. “Can this thing just end — please?” he pleaded. “My God what a nightmare.”