Donald Trump maybe didn’t pay taxes for the last twenty years because he’s a genius––according to his surrogates, anyway.
Their comments came after a New York Times story published late on Saturday, Oct. 1 detailed how Trump, after claiming on his taxes he lost nearly $1 billion in 1995, may not have paid any income tax for the past two decades. Instead of pushing back on Sunday morning, Trump’s top backers didn’t undercut it. Instead, they embraced it as evidence the Republican nominee is smart and forward-thinking.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the story was “very, very good” for the Republican nominee.
“What it shows is what an absolute mess the federal tax code is, and that’s why Donald Trump is the person best positioned to fix it,” he said. “There’s no one who’s shown more genius in their way to maneuver about the tax code as he rightfully used the laws to do that.”
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani made the identical case on CNN’s State of the Union and NBC’s Meet the Press, on both shows using the word “genius” to characterize Trump’s tax avoidance.
“Don’t you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman, the only thing she’s ever produced is a lot of work for the FBI, checking out her emails?” he told host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week.
And on Meet the Press, Giuliani suggested that Trump isn’t the only person looking to game the system. After all, he said, poor people do it all the time!
“A lot of the people that are poor take advantage of loopholes and pay no taxes,” he said. “Those are loopholes also.”
On CNN’s State of the Union, Bernie Sanders made the opposite argument––that working class people in particular don’t get special carve-outs in the tax code.
“Many of these billionaires have loopholes that their lobbyists and their friends on Capitol Hill provide for them, which enable them to avoid taxes, in some cases not paying a nickel in taxes,” the Vermont senator said. “You've got the middle class people working longer hours for low wages. They pay their taxes... but the billionaires, they don't have to do that.”
And some Democrats sounded amused at the assertion that Trump’s willingness to capitalize on loopholes in the tax code makes him a man of the people.
“It’s so ironic that he’s trying to lift himself up as some kind of champion of working people,” said Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill on Fox News Sunday. “He crashes businesses into bankruptcy, leaving scores of businesses unpaid, people really hurting with the losses his companies have suffered, but he walks away unscathed. It appears he walks away with a golden ticket that allows him under the tax code to avoid taxes for decades.”
It’s unlikely that the “genius” defense of Trump will get him out of hot water. A focus group of undecided voters in Philadelphia during last week’s debate, which The Daily Beast observed, showed virtually complete consensus on one issue: that Trump should not have bragged about how smart he was to skip paying taxes.
But Trump’s top boosters aren’t worried about that view. Instead, they’re banking on the idea that Americans will be enchanted with a brilliant genius who maybe didn’t pay taxes at all and could show them to do it, too.