Yes, A Tax Scandal Can Take Down a Politician

There are thousands of words in the New York Times Tens of thousands more taxes will be released in the coming weeks.

But it’s the first 27 words of the piece that can inflict a serious wound on the president: “Donald J. Trump paid $ 750 in federal income tax the year he won the presidency. In his first year at the White House, he paid another $ 750. “

The main part of the story tells of years of disagreement over his finances: he claimed enormous losses to offset his tax liabilities, increased his wealth to obtain massive loans, and claimed, “Now that his financial challenges mount, the records show that he is more and more dependent is more on how to make money with companies that place him in a potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president. “It’s rich in detail, and those details – hundreds of thousands of dollars in“ consulting fees ”for daughter Ivanka, including a controversial tax refund of $ 72.9 million – are not easy to interpret (despite being $ 72,000 in deductible “business” costs “for hair styling, can raise a few eyebrows).

But that opening number – $ 750 in taxes from the self-proclaimed multibillionaire – is easy to grasp and translate into a clear political message.

The evidence of this can be found in a 1976 Tennessee Senate race. First-time Senator Bill Brock, who had defeated Al Gore Sr. years earlier, was in a difficult race against Democrat James Sasser. In mid-October, after being pressured by the press, Brock admitted paying $ 2,026 for an income of $ 51,670 – less than 4 percent at a time when someone was doing that much the IRS would have written a check for up to 62 percent of his income.

Almost immediately, pink buttons appeared that read, “I paid more taxes than Brock.” As the story spread, the chairman of the State Labor Council held a press conference comparing Brock’s taxes with those of an auto worker, steel worker and railroad engineer each paying far more taxes on far lower salaries than Brock. In November Brock lost his seat by 5 points.

The story resonated because it confirmed “populist” ideas about how things really work: one way or another, those in positions of power manage to avoid the pressures that “normal” people face. It’s what’s behind one of Richard Nixon’s liabilities during his Watergate days: his taxes. In one case, he had requested a tax deduction of $ 500,000 on the donation of his essentially worthless vice presidential papers. In another case, it was found that he paid $ 792.81 in federal taxes in 1970 and $ 878.03 in 1971 on a salary of $ 200,000. (His taxes were not included in the impeachment proceedings adopted by the House Judiciary Committee.)

When asked about the story at his press conference on Sunday night, Trump stated (I use the word loosely) that the story was a joke, a fake. A Trump spokesman said that Times that Tump had paid huge sums of money – without explaining what kind of tax – but did not dispute the basic claim that he had only paid $ 750 a year for two years.

Perhaps the President, who has survived many seemingly fatal controversies, has so succeeded in convincing his acolytes not to believe anything critical in him that this latest story will have little effect. But I wonder: what if people show up in offices, factories, malls, and stores with buttons and t-shirts and read, “I paid more tax than Trump”?

There’s an 89 year old ex-senator in Chattanooga who might be able to tell you what’s next.

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