Does It Really Matter That Trump Won’t Release His Tax Returns?


Holly Whitman

Holly Whitman is a writer and journalist based in Washington DC. She loves to share her thoughts on the intersection of politics and culture, and writes on everything from feminism and human rights to climate change and technology.

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53 Responses

  1. Avatar trizzlor says:

    If any of the hundreds of xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, uninformed, abusive and insane comments Trump has made in broad daylight haven’t managed to dent his Presidential prospects by now, nothing will. Certainly not the release of his tax returns.

    How do you reconcile this with Trump’s atrocious polling week? People are clearly reacting negatively to his convention (when he had nearly complete control of the spin) and to the comments he made in the wake of the DNC. He very well may recover over time, but I think there is no longer support for the assumption that Trump says whatever he wants and his approval only goes up.

    As for the tax returns, they are simply one area where the candidate can demonstrate good faith to the public and provide an example of his behavior behind the scenes. It’s obviously not a deal-breaker, and Trump may decide that the good faith effort is not worth what the tax returns reveal (in the same way that Clinton decided that a good faith effort to archive her emails wasn’t worth it). But if his poll numbers stabilize where they are now, Trump will start to run out of such opportunities.Report

  2. Avatar pillsy says:

    But whatever it is, there’s no conceivable way that it could lower a rational human being’s opinion of him any further than it already is.

    Well, yeah, but voting isn’t limited to only rational human beings, so only relying on arguments that might appeal to them seems to be a sub-optimal strategy.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Trump looks like he is heading towards an epic defeat and his base of support might not extend beyond a rump reactionary 15-25 percent of the nation. Since I am don’t believe in utopia, I would peg this as the part of the population that his going to be fascist-authoritarian-unreconstructed bigot no matter what.

    The big issue is the norms that Trump has violated. There is a norm that Presidential candidates release their tax returns. This is seen as a good-faith issue in transperancy. Trump won the GOP nod while violating nearly every political norm there is.

    Perhaps an absolute Trump defeat would show that Americans really care about the norms and they will return.

    Trump is a buffoon and almost too cartoonish to be dangerous. A smoother Trump could get away with breaking a lot more normsReport

  4. Avatar Mo says:

    A tax return doesn’t tell you much, if anything, about net worth. You can make some inferences based on investment cash flow over time, but that’s about it. It does tell you how much money they donated to charity, what tax loopholes they take advantage of and the like. My guess is the bigger red flag is that Trump’s charity claims do not match reality.Report

  5. Avatar North says:

    Trump has made some very strong claims about the size of his wealth and his generosity in giving to charity. The Tax returns would provide a very clear window into both of those claims. Accordingly his refusal to release them has significance.

    On a more conspiratorial level Trump is pretty much toxic to standard financial institutions (what with his reputation for taking out loans then bailing on them) and it’s been suggested his tax returns could indicate some significant connections with less savory sources of financing.

    Regardless, the political norm is to release one’s tax returns. It would be pure political malpractice to not hammer on that point over and over again even if there’s nothing of value hidden within them. Doing otherwise would be how the norm would be broken and I have heard no argument to persuade me that it’s a norm worthy of being discarded.

    If one moves far enough to the left (or to the right for that matter) one enters a realm of ideals that are so politically impotent that the concept of trying to convince centrists, low information voters and the like loses any weight as a practical consideration. You don’t have to move very far into the mainstream, though, before the idea that persuading the persuadable swiftly outweighs the more rarified sensibility that simply deeming Trump as a bad person for reason X, Y or Z is adequate and thus his refusal to release his tax returns is no big deal.Report

  6. Avatar Dark Matter says:

    Tax returns were a disaster for Romney, not because he’d done anything wrong, but because normal people can’t relate to upper 1% financing.

    Trumps would be worse, there’s no possible way it can help him, somewhere in those tens of thousands of pages of stuff there’s something to claim is *wrong*… and that’s actually *best* case for him. Worse is he’s nowhere near as rich as he claims or whatever.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Dark Matter says:

      The one category of jokes that were verboten at his comedy roast was his net worth.

      I would say the worst case is ties to Russia considering the speculation in the past few weeks. US Banks refuse to loan money to Trump. He needs to get his financing from more unique sources.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        But in the end, isn’t Trump doing deals with Russia like Jeff Goldblum doing IT support for space aliens?Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        This brings us back to upper 1% financing.

        Cnn claims we’re talking about 500 companies. I fully expect some of them are having problems.

        But I can’t tell the difference between what I’d hear about Trump’s finances if they were real and what I’d hear if they’re not. Hillary’s people are going to throw mud. Digging up the worst Trump company is like presenting the worst McDonalds.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Dark Matter says:

          I think it says something when American banks refuse to loan you money and you are allegedly a brilliant business person.

          Romney was good at business and as far as I know would have no trouble getting financing from US sources or non-sketchy sources.

          As far as I can tell, Trump’s high point was in 1983 with the creation of Trump Tower and since then he has just become a kind of brand and everyone sees him as untrustworthy.Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Saul Degraw says:


            I think it says something when American banks refuse to loan you money and you are allegedly a brilliant business person.

            As far as I can tell you’re quoting this…

            Whose chief source was this… (this is from March)

            …and the problems they’re referencing were individual businesses and the problems related to the crash of 2008.

            So we’re talking about old news from the WSJ when they were trying to prevent him from getting the GOP’s nod. Or in other words, this looks like election year mud rather than ‘he’s falling apart right now’.

            Unless I’m looking at the wrong sources?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Dark Matter says:

              These snips are from the WSJ, March 20, 2016:

              One of Donald Trump’s closest allies on Wall Street is a now-struggling German bank.

              While many big banks have shunned him, Deutsche Bank AG has been a steadfast financial backer of the Republican presidential candidate’s business interests.

              Other Wall Street banks, after doing extensive business with Mr. Trump in the 1980s and 1990s, pulled back in part due to frustration with his business practices … Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley are among the banks that don’t currently work with him.

              At Goldman Sachs Group Inc., bankers “know better than to pitch” a Trump-related deal, said a former Goldman executive.

              In 2008, Mr. Trump failed to pay $334 million he owed on the Chicago loan because of lackluster sales of the building’s units. He then sued Deutsche Bank. His argument was that the economic crisis constituted a “force majeure”—an unforeseen event such as war or natural disaster—that should excuse the repayment until conditions improved.

              And so on.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Stillwater says:

                Exactly. For “current” problems we need to go back to 2008? Really?

                The claim on the table is that banks have refused to finance him. Which banks, under what conditions, and so forth? My one minute google search found those two articles, and that’s as far as I could get, and basically it’s unsourced undetailed rumor about a guy running for President. What they were claiming about Romney at this point was that he didn’t pay taxes *at* *all*.

                The overall economic conditions strongly favor Trump, this is the wrong part of the business cycle for him to die in unless some massive screw up destroys him… but what’s actually on the table is rumors and 2008.

                I don’t like Trump, I’m not his supporter, I think the GOP would be best served by him stepping down and letting his VP take over… and even with all that, this still hits the radar as election year slime.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Dark, I think you’re looking for a level of “proof” which cannot be provided.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Stillwater says:

                Dark, I think you’re looking for a level of “proof” which cannot be provided.

                Let’s just quote the article:

                The court rejected Mr. Trump’s arguments but the suit forced Deutsche Bank to the negotiating table. The two sides agreed to settle their suits out of court in 2009. The following year, they extended the original loan by five years. It was paid off in 2012—with the help of a loan from the German firm’s private bank.

                While Deutsche Bank didn’t lose money on the deal, the fracas soured its investment bankers on working with Mr. Trump. “He was persona non grata after that,” said a banker who worked on the deal.

                But not everyone within Deutsche Bank wanted to sever the relationship. The company’s private-banking arm, which caters to ultrarich families and individuals, picked up the slack, lending well over $300 million to Trump entities in the following years.

                One of those loans, for $125 million, was to finance the purchase of Miami’s Doral Golf Resort and Spa in 2011, which he re-christened Trump National Doral.

                So… the bank, which is supposedly refusing to give him loans, is in fact loaning him money, apparently to this day. And *that’s* our proof that he’s got problems.

                Refusal by someone to help Trump buy a golf course is very different from refusal by everyone to help him (and even that wouldn’t be death because not all deals work). If you actually want to claim he’s got problems, then what you need is forclosures, or lack of payment of loans (as opposed to loans which were paid off).Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Dark Matter says:

                So… the bank, which is supposedly refusing to give him loans, is in fact loaning him money, apparently to this day. And *that’s* our proof that he’s got problems.

                Saul’s claim, and the WSJ’s claim, was that American banks won’t lend to Trump. The WSJ article also said, pretty definitively, that Deutsche Bank does lend to Trump.

                I’m not sure what the problem is.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Stillwater says:

                Saul’s claim, and the WSJ’s claim, was that American banks won’t lend to Trump. The WSJ article also said, pretty definitively, that Deutsche Bank does lend to Trump. I’m not sure what the problem is.

                Ignoring that German banks are not Russian banks….

                The issue is what is the definition of “won’t lend”. Does that mean…
                1) Won’t lend to Trump under any circumstances?
                2) Won’t lend to Trump without strong collateral?
                3) Won’t lend to Trump at rates lower than the German bank?

                There is a *vast* difference between #1 (Trump is going bankrupt) and #3 (German banks don’t want to invest in negative rate gov bonds so even golf courses look like a good idea).Report

              • Avatar Mo in reply to Dark Matter says:

                There’s a reason why the loan is coming from the private bank. Private banks have different priorities (AUM) than the investment bank (expected loan yield). The private bank deal is likely under the condition that he hold X amount in AUM, where they can get a piece of that sweet 2/20 on investments with the risk that he default on his business loan. OTOH, all the investment bank can make money on is pure return, so they’re left holding the bag if he defaults.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Dark Matter says:


                I still think that the 1% financing thing is an argument that only a libertarian can love. Sometimes things are shocking to a majority for completely understandable reasons.

                Trump also threatened to sue the press a lot this week because he has delusions of being Louis XIV or something. So he is not quite a hill to die on.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Saul Degraw says:


                I still think that the 1% financing thing is an argument that only a libertarian can love. Sometimes things are shocking to a majority for completely understandable reasons.

                That logic can and has been applied to all sorts of things, abortion, drug/alcohol use, gay sex, economic inequality, etc.

                But moral outrage isn’t the same as sound social/economic policy, often it’s the opposite.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Dark Matter says:

      Word on the street was that Romney had done stuff wrong, and that’s why he wouldn’t release them.
      Tax amnesty (bring your money back from switzerland) was on the table for the year he wouldn’t release, after all.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Kimmi says:

        “Word on the street” turned out to be outright lies spread by his political opponents, i.e. that he hadn’t paid any tax at all.

        Keep in mind if we’re going to put finances under a microscope, Trump is running against Hillary… and that foundation looks a lot like a money laundering scheme.Report

        • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Dark Matter says:

          One of the issues with Trump’s refusal to release his returns is that it defangs any attacks on Clinton’s finances. Why should I care about the conspiracy theories surrounding the data *she has voluntarily released* when the other guy doesn’t even go that far. I’m interested in testing whether Clinton > Trump, not whether Clinton > 0.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

            Another piece of evidence for the “Clinton Plant” hypothesis.Report

            • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Jaybird says:

              Dude, the Khan fiasco should have really sealed it. Let’s take what everyone agrees was the most compelling speech from the DNC and spend four days using it to attack a military dad with weird innuendo that has nothing to do with your agenda. While the rest of your campaign distances themselves from you and looks to stage an intervention. Uhm …. Okay. The amount of time Trump focused on attacking Warren, Bloomberg, and Khan after the DNC makes me wonder if he’s planning to invite Hillary to his next wedding.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

              Trump is a Clinton plant and has been able to keep his mouth shut about it all this time. He’s an extremely subtle and disciplined man only pretending to be a scatterbrained buffoon. In fact, his entire public career up until this campaign has been laying the ground for this deception.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Just like Obama’s birth announcement in the Honolulu press was one of the first steps in the plan to have a Kenyan take over as president fifty years later, so he would then confiscate America’s guns, cancel the 2016 election and surrender the country to the control of the U. N.

                It’s Deep State all downReport

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jaybird says:

              He’s not actually a Plant, but they did make a deal.
              Of course, only trump could screw up throwing an election.Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to trizzlor says:

            :sigh: I can’t disagree with any of that. For the GOP this election was stunningly winnable… which I suppose is why we had 15(ish) people run. Looks like there’s a lot to be said for smoke filled back rooms.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Dark Matter says:

          When I say word on the street, I mean from fiscal sleuths, not “political opponents” (this particular person was working for Romney at the time, even).Report

  7. Avatar Damon says:

    I’ve never understood the compulsion to release a cannidate’s tax records, nor the expectation that the do it from the public. Who runs for president? Rich well connected folk. Rich folk got money. Well connected folk got money. You see a tax form and SURPRISE? Duh.

    “It says a lot about our country that one of the ways we judge a Presidential candidate’s “fitness” is the size of their tax return.” But do we? I sure as hell don’t. Does the public? Oh, he’s richer than the other guy, I should vote for him! Maybe low info voter, but surely not anyone reading this site.

    That a man (or, yes, a woman) is grotesquely wealthy should itself be a red flag about their candidacy. A person who hasn’t driven their own car in 25 years has no business leading a country peopled predominantly by working-class folks.” Well that rules out HRC don’t it? But SO WHAT? See above about only rich folk running for president. Who do you expect to run. Some commoner who owns a gas station?

    “Neither does a man who has his name emblazoned in larger-than-life golden letters on the side of buildings built by underpaid illegal immigrants.” Actually, narcissistic rich men would seem drawn to the office.

    “If Trump’s tax returns were the smoking gun we’ve been waiting for, we’ve been truly unobservant indeed.” Only the media cares.

    “No amount of fact-checking will ever be enough to sway them” You mean like a candidate that runs as an outsider for “hope and change” but is nominated by a party filled with status quo supporters, insiders, and by the same people that screwed Bernie? That’d be MUCH better!

    Maybe the appeal of Trump is visceral emotional one where the supporter hopes that if elected, Trump will screw over the people that have been screwing the Trump supporter over? Maybe it’s about payback and revenge vs some logical rationale? I can’t say, I don’t live in a state that will vote for him.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Damon says:


      Before Watergate, there was some serious tax issues. The “I am not a crook” line? His taxes. Turns out he owed 750k (about 3 mil in inflation adjusted dollars), or about 1/3 his net worth.

      Ford released his tax returns as part of an attempt to restore faith in government and promote transparency. Every nominee (and most candidates) since then have.

      In context, not releasing them is tantamount to saying you’re hiding something. In Trump’s case, I suspect either he’s not nearly as rich as he claims — and admitting that would savage his brand, costing him a lot of money — or he’s being heavily audited for some sketchy stuff, and by and large Americans dislike the idea of our President playing games on his taxes. Because if you can’t even pay what little you owe — and they know the rich pay a lot less because of loopholes — why should they trust you? You won’t even pay your tiny effective rate”. (And effective rate is kind of a political football since there’s always some candidate wanting to slash taxes on brackets that, coincidentally, include him).

      So, the tl:dr version is “Nixon was cheating on his taxes and lying about it, and there was a big stink, and then candidates started releasing it to prove they’re not Nixon”.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Morat20 says:

        Also the charities. If you contribute to charities it shows on your taxes. Romney Pere released his returns and it showed he gave enormous amounts to charities. Trump has also claimed great generosity but hasn’t shown any proof. The tax returns would reveal it definitively.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Morat20 says:

        I understand that. And in this particular case it might be a good idea to release the tax files, but it’s not required and he doesn’t have to. People can form their own opinions on candidates without a lot of hard data. This is no different. But hey, let’s make the forms release mandatory. Let’s get congress to pass a law if it’s constitutional.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Damon says:

          No one’s saying he has to.

          What he’s getting (and even that’s mitigated because on the “Trump” scale ignoring 40 years of convention and looking shady barely rates) is people judging him because he won’t.

          Which is fair enough.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Damon says:

      I’m kind of with Damon here. There are definitely reasons that the public benefits, at least potentially, from getting access to the information (I’m a little skeptical just how much the returns tell us, since the more involved their finances, the less transparent their tax filings are likely to be, but all else being equal, seeing them gives more transparency than not). But I’m not sure the public is entitled to an absolute expectation that they be released. But then from there, people are well within their rights to form negative conclusions of their own from a refusal to be transparent. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say a candidate who chooses not to disclose has abrogated an absolute obligation for all candidates for president or whatever offices we’re thinking about this for.

      Basically, I’m okay with a situation where candidates are free to choose between this degree of transparency, or a p.r. hit of some degree for not doing so. But I don’t want the media to act like it’s some type of quasi-law they’re breaking. If they don’t want to show us, they don’t have to. But we can react with leeriness, the more so the more complicated their finances seem to be. (But then also, the more complicated, the less likely the tax returns are to really be fully revealing.)Report

  8. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Rules are for pussies.

    At least, that seems to be the Donald Trump philosophy.

    Who is his core constituency? Disaffected white men, largely left behind by societal (on both a national and global level) changes. Their power, which used to be concentrated among them and their demographic peers, has become diffuse in large part due to new “rules”. The system used to “righteously” work for and on their behalf; but now it has beem hijacked and co-opted and turned against them unjustly and illegitimately. So any attack on the system is warranted and welcomed. Flouting the rules is what Trump’s base wants because they don’t like all these new rules.

    We can shake our heads at their myopic and perspectiveless perception of the last, oh, 60 years. But we do so at our own peril. Our tendency to have done so is what has helped lead to Trumpism. We can reject their hatred and push back against many of the changes seek.

    At this point, spite seems to be the name of the game.

    “Oh yea? Showing tax returns/tolerating crying babies/respecting religious beliefs/telling the truth is pussy shit. We’ve been trying to play by the rules for years and things have only gotten worse for us. Fuck the rules. In fact, I’m gonna go out of my way to break rules even if it doesn’t help me because at least it’ll be funner than getting screwed over for following the rules.”

    Trumpism (not Trump) is the kid who has already failed 4th period English but still has to go to class. The teacher hates him, he thinks, and that’s why his grades are in the toilet. Unfortunately, he has to show up so why not be a thorn in her side until she either cracks (victory!) or he gets expelled (martyrdom!). Maybe some of his grievances have some validity, but no one listened to him no matter what he tried. So it’s scorched Earth. Trump himself is the rich kid sitting next to Trumpism, with the B- but a slot at his daddy’s alma mater, egging Trumpism on: “You won’t do it.”Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

      Exactly. Now let’s take that attitude you clearly articulated and apply it to LGBT and the Gays.

      “Fuck that equal marriage and “weirdo bathroom rights””.

      How far is the above comment from the one below?

      “It’s time to fix all those queers good. Where’s the rope?”

      Personally, I think it’s getting closer that it was several presidential elections ago. And i think it’s going to continue to get closer. I don’t think HRC will do anything to fix it. Might make it worse. And let me say this. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING YOU WANT TO IGNORE. So how are we going to widen the gap?Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Damon says:

        10 points is already epic-loss time.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Damon says:


        Because I wanted to focus on the mindset behind this thinking and not get derailed, I deleted a section where I talked about the need to address his suuporters’ concerns, real or perceived. However their tactics for making their concerns known are highly counterproductive, as discussed above.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Damon says:

        And if I “clearly articulated” an attitude, why not quote it? Where did I say “Fuck Trump supporters and their concerns”?Report

        • Avatar Damon in reply to Kazzy says:


          I wasn’t criticizing your post but expanding on it.

          “We can shake our heads at their myopic and perspectiveless perception of the last, oh, 60 years. But we do so at our own peril. Our tendency to have done so is what has helped lead to Trumpism. ”

          Exactly…and I extended that line of thinking further down the road. They are tired of following rules they don’t agree with that were put in place against them. What I said is a logical outcome should they continue to be treated like crap by the system.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Kazzy says:

          Where did I say “Fuck Trump supporters and their concerns”?

          If you don’t, I will.

          Engage. Listen. Educate

          I remember in 1992 after the Rodney King riots here in LA, when the smoke still lingered in the air, and white people still had grainy mental images of being dragged from their cars and beaten to a pulp, people talked like this.

          Softly, treading on eggshells, straining to be delicate and polite and understanding and sensitive because every white person had that black friend at work and no one wanted to have him flip out and start a rampage or something.

          Now I am hearing people talk about the pitiable oppressed white one truck contractors with Trump hats the same way, I guess because, well, they want to burn the whole place down too.Report

  9. Avatar pillsy says:

    Kazzy: We can shake our heads at their myopic and perspectiveless perception of the last, oh, 60 years. But we do so at our own peril.

    What’s the alternative? You say we can reject and push back against the hate, but, well, we’ve been doing that for a while and it has not, evidently, done much to help.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to pillsy says:

      @pillsy and @damon

      Engage. Listen. Educate

      In “diversity work” there is the 20-60-20 theory: 20% of people already agree or are inclined to agree with you, 20% don’t and never will, and 60% are persuadable. Maybe the numbers are 25-50-25 or 10-80-10. But I like the idea. If these people are the 20%, the best we can do is seek to mitigate their impact while aiming to coexist respectfully. But if they are in the squishy middle, we work with them, not against them.

      Part of the problem is there anger is misdirected. They blame Mexicans because their coal mine shut down. Trump, the evil bastard, is stoking that by encouraging the blame and promising to reverse rules that don’t actually exist and, if they do, are irrelevant to their problems.Report