Seven days ago, Donald Trump spent much of a nationally televised presidential debate arguing for the virtues of tax avoidance, birtherism, stiffing one’s contractors, and mocking Rosie O’Donnell’s physical appearance.
Days later, a batch of new polls found the GOP nominee losing ground for the first time in weeks. And then USA Today told every half-awake Best Western guest in the United States to vote for anyone but Donald Trump; and Newsweek revealed that the mogul had violated the Cuba embargo that he’d been campaigning on reinstating; and Trump woke up at 3 a.m. on Friday to tweet about the sex tape of a former Miss Universe winner whom he’d psychologically abused.
And then the New York Times called attention to the fact that he had lost nearly $1 billion in 1995 and might have avoided paying all income taxes for more than a decade afterward.
When the week was still young, and the Trump campaign’s only misstep was a historically bad performance in front of a historically large debate audience, Hillary Clinton gained 4 points on the mogul in the Politico/Morning Consult weekly tracking poll. By week’s end, she had gained another 3.
Before last Monday’s debate, Trump led Clinton by a single point in the survey. Now, the Democratic nominee leads him by 6. Notably, Clinton’s advantage is more the product of Trump losing support than of her gaining it. A little over a week ago, Trump was besting Clinton 41 to 40 percent — now, she tops him 42 to 36 percent. Gary Johnson takes 9 percent in the latest survey, Jill Stein takes 2, while a full 10 percent of voters say they’re undecided.
When respondents are forced to choose between the major-party contenders, Clinton’s leads Trump 46 to 39 percent.
The tracking poll was taken over the weekend, and likely hasn’t fully priced in whatever effect the New York Times Saturday-night publication of part of Trump’s 1995 tax return may have. Even in polls where the mogul trails Clinton, he has frequently enjoyed an advantage on economic issues. To the extent that this advantage was based on Trump’s reputation as a successful businessman, the revelation that he lost nearly $1 billion in a single year could erode it.
What’s more, the self-identified billionaire has not denied the paper’s suggestion that the loss allowed him to avoid all federal income taxes for 18 years afterward. Early in his campaign, Trump decried Wall Street executives who avoid paying their fair share in taxes. Now, the GOP nominee could get a taste of the populist indignation he’s been fomenting. Or so the Washington Post’s interviews with Ohio voters suggest:
On his way into church, at the suburban parish he shares with Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Fred Glynn, 63, said that Clinton’s support of abortion rights made her impossible to accept. But the tax story, which he had just seen on CNN, added to the reasons he would have to reject Trump.
“How can he not pay income taxes?” he asked. “He talks about helping people, but he doesn’t pay income tax? That’s helping everybody. It’s like the situation in Florida, where he didn’t pay taxes on his golf course. The school suffered from that.”
The fact that Trump has not disputed the Times finding — and still insists on not releasing the rest of his returns — suggests there is something more politically damaging in them than mere tax avoidance. That mystery is likely to keep the subject of the GOP nominee’s financial history in the conversation for weeks to come.
According to Politico, down-ballot Republicans are losing faith in Trump’s ability to weather such conversations.
Just a week after it seemed Trump’s ascent was finally bringing some of the GOP’s most recalcitrant anti-Trumpers in line behind the nominee, some Republicans are now contemplating an endgame that may include GOP senate candidates telling voters that a Clinton presidency will require a conservative congressional majority to block her progressive agenda.