Donald Trump will never release his tax returns. Maybe there were years when he paid no taxes at all, but for a real estate developer that wouldn’t be unusual. Some years you book big losses to make big bucks the next year – there are development costs before there are profits or any income at all. That can be explained, so something else might be going on – maybe Trump isn’t a billionaire after all. Proof of that would ruin everything. Trump would be just another angry old white man shouting at the scruffy kids to get off his lawn. Some believe that’s what’s going on here, but no one will ever know. Trump will never release his tax returns. Assume that he’s a billionaire, or don’t. Argue about that if you wish, but no one can prove anything, one way or the other. The argument is pointless. Had Elvis lived, would he have recorded an album with Taylor Swift? Argue about that.
But there is information out there. There’s the required monthly report to the Federal Election Commission on each campaign’s finances – what was spent on what, what came in, and net cash on hand at the end of the month. This is required by law and you can’t lie – you could go to jail for lying. Federal election laws were enacted to keep our elections clean – bribes and payoffs cannot be hidden. All money must be accounted for, and here’s where the Trump folks got hammered, as the Washington Post explains:
As top Republicans expressed astonishment and alarm over Donald Trump’s paltry campaign fundraising totals, the presumptive nominee blamed party leaders Tuesday and threatened to rely on his personal fortune instead of helping the GOP seek the cash it needs.
New campaign finance reports showing that Trump had less than $1.3 million in the bank heading into June ignited fears that the party will not be able to afford the kind of national field effort that the entire Republican ticket depends on.
Well, shit, but Trump pushed back:
The real estate mogul responded by going on the offensive, saying GOP fundraisers have failed to rally around his campaign.
“I’m having more difficulty, frankly, with some of the people in the party,” Trump said on NBC’s Today, adding, “They don’t want to come on.”
“If it gets to a point,” he said, “what I’ll do is just do what I did in the primaries,” when he lent his presidential campaign more than $43 million.
Note that that was a loan. His presidential campaign now owes him that forty-three million, to be paid back at a later date. He’s not going to be on the hook for any of this, but that’s not much help now:
The billionaire developer increased his line of credit to the campaign by an additional $2.2 million last month – the smallest amount he has shelled out this year – but Trump said in a statement Tuesday that “if need be, there could be unlimited cash on hand as I would put up my own money.”
It’s unclear how quickly he could access the hundreds of millions needed to finance a national campaign. In May, Trump suggested that to do so, he would have to “sell a couple of buildings.”
But there’s a problem with that:
If he did tap his wealth to finance his bid, it would effectively amount to abandonment of the Republican National Committee and the rest of the GOP ticket, which relies on the presidential nominee to help fund a national field organization for the fall elections.
He actually would be running as a third-party candidate, and no one is happy with any of this:
Top Republicans said Trump squandered the month of May by neglecting to capitalize on clinching the nomination to build and activate a grass-roots fundraising base.
There is also growing scrutiny of his heavy use of Trump-owned companies as vendors. Of the $63 million his campaign spent through May, more than $6 million – close to 10 percent – went to pay Trump properties or reimburse Trump and his family for expenses, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. That includes $4.6 million paid to his private jet company, TAG Air, and $423,000 that went just last month to his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla.
So he essentially pays himself ten percent of whatever comes in, but, on the other hand, he’s not paying himself an actual salary – he’s just taking care of family and the businesses he owns, but there is this:
Meanwhile, expected Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has been stockpiling cash. She raised more than $28 million in May and started June with $42 million in the bank. The former secretary of state has held a string of high-dollar fundraisers in the past several weeks, including three hosted by wealthy donors in New York on Monday night.
Cue the Republican despair:
Trump is “now looking into the abyss,” said Ed Rollins, the top strategist for Great America PAC, a pro-Trump super PAC. “He can either start writing checks and selling some buildings and golf courses or get on the phones and talk to donors. Big donors just don’t want to give money unless they have the opportunity to talk to the candidate, hear what your positions are. There’s just been a failure from start to finish on the fundraising side.”
Lisa Spies, a veteran GOP fundraising consultant, said she has been amazed at the lack of outreach from Trump.
“No donors that I deal with – and I deal with national Jewish and women donors – none of them has gotten a phone call. None. Not one,” Spies said. “To raise money, you have to ask for money. It’s that simple. Whether you ask for it by mail, whether you do phone calls, whether you do events, whether you have one-on-one meetings, you have to ask.”
Among those who had yet to receive a call was Fred Malek, the well-connected finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
“Many leading donors are waiting to see him take a more inclusive, tolerant and substantive approach to campaigning,” Malek said. “Even if they all came around with great enthusiasm, there’s no way in this short time frame that’s available he can build the kind of organization that will be competitive financially. There’s no way he can do it. Hillary Clinton’s been at this for several decades.”
One prominent Washington fundraiser who has played major roles on past Republican presidential campaigns said he has not heard of Trump reaching out to any of his peers.
“I have not been asked, and I don’t know anybody in town who has been asked,” said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk candidly. “There is absolutely no discernible presence in D.C. raising money on his behalf. And I’m guessing this is not unique to D.C. They are so [expletive] far behind the curve on so many things that are Campaign Organization 101, I find it inexplicable.”
There’s much more of this, but also this:
Trump on Tuesday sent what he touted as his first fundraising email. (It wasn’t: A joint fundraising committee he has with the RNC sent an email solicitation in his name on June 8.)
“I’m going to help make it the most successful introductory fundraising email in modern political history by personally matching every dollar that comes in WITHIN THE NEXT 48 HOURS, up to $2 million!” Trump wrote in Tuesday’s missive.
Yeah, that’s an infomercial thing – order now and you get a second Sham-Wow free – and Paul Waldman points to the real problem here:
Let’s remember what the entire basis of the Trump candidacy is. Trump argues that he can fix America’s problems and make us great again. Why him? Because he’s rich, that’s why. That spectacular, tremendous, mind-boggling wealth is supposed to be proof of Trump’s innate brilliance, his superhuman negotiating skills, his unearthly management expertise. He might not be able to tell you the difference between Medicare and Medicaid or between the deficit and the debt, but he gets things done. If you doubt, just look at the size of his plane.
And now, piece by piece, that image is crumbling.
This is a core failure:
Trump spent decades working to build a brand that would be synonymous with success (which just happens to be the name of his cologne), and that’s what his supporters so often cite as one of the main reasons they’re attracted to him: He made all that money, he’s such a terrific businessman, so surely he can clean up Washington and do a great job on the economy. But now that he has come under more scrutiny than he ever faced before, the picture of Trump as a high-class magnate is being replaced with a different picture, one of a grifter always dancing one step ahead of bankruptcy court and concocting one failed scheme after another to separate people from their money. …
With his lack of experience in politics, people might not have expected Trump to devise the best voter contact strategy or delegate management operation. But if nothing else, at least he should have been able to assemble and oversee a well-run organization and raise a lot of money. Instead, he’s failing at exactly the things he’s supposed to be so good at.
Waldman also sees no easy recovery from this:
Think about how you’d feel if you were a big Republican donor considering whether to donate to Trump. You probably didn’t want him to be the party’s nominee in the first place. His campaign looks like a disaster. And yet he’s constantly saying he doesn’t need anyone’s money. So why would you break out your checkbook?
And then add this:
Trump is still counting on the media to save him. He doesn’t need as much money as a traditional candidate would, he believes, because of his unmatched ability to seize the attention of the media, leaving the Trump name on the lips of every TV watcher, radio listener and newspaper reader.
The problem with that strategy is that these days, media coverage of Trump consists largely of 1) him saying appalling things that turn off key segments of the electorate; 2) people criticizing him, even members of his own party; and 3) reports on more alarming stories from his past. And if you think we’ve seen the last of those, think again. At some point, there will be a reason for reporters to take a new look at things like the Trump Network (his vitamin-selling pyramid scheme), and it won’t be pretty.
This was the kiss of death:
This may be just a period of bad news Trump will get past, and then regain his footing. But when the entire rationale for your campaign rests on your ability to obtain and manage money, stories like the ones we’re now seeing about Trump are likely to stick in people’s minds.
Josh Marshall notes how Trump decided to fight back:
It must be terrifying for any Republicans who were hoping that the firing of Corey Lewandowski presaged the debut of a new saner Trump. Faced with a Clinton campaign that has over $40 million in cash on hand and his own campaign that’s barely solvent with just over $1 million, Trump tells [MSNBC’s] Norah O’Donnell that the money Clinton has raised is “blood money.”
You can see the video here (there doesn’t seem to be an embeddable version). “Every time she’s raising money she’s making deals,” says Trump, before saying that he doesn’t want to spend his time raising money. “For all of the money she’s raising, that’s blood money.”
It’s classic Trump form – up the ante, go hyperbolic – but it looks more desperate when he’s losing and being abandoned by allies right and left.
Marshall is not impressed:
Trump seems to be groping his way back to his earlier “I’m self-funding, no one owns me” line. Only he’s not self-funding because he doesn’t have any money. He isn’t raising other people’s money because he’s either too proud or too lazy to ask real rich people for money. So his answer is a kind of penniless primal scream about “blood money.”
That’s the wrong thing to do:
What Trump needs, though it is uncertain how he’d manage it, is to rebrand, build a cocoon and reemerge, as a sane, emotionally balanced Republican who could leverage public uncertainty about Hillary Clinton and harness the inherent strengths of the party which hasn’t held the presidency in eight years. He desperately needs a public-perception-reset on the temperament front. But his impulse, which always rules him, is to channel every white guy over 50 who has spent twenty years gnashing his teeth for the opportunity to call Hillary a c#%t and developed hypertension for lack of an opportunity to say it to her face.
I can only imagine what this bodes for his big Hillary speech tomorrow.
Marshall explains that speech:
Trump has coyly announced a “speech regarding the election” tomorrow in New York. On Twitter he says it will be about “the failed policies and bad judgment of Crooked Hillary Clinton.” This was the speech that was preempted by the ‘I’m awesome; we’re all gonna die’ speech he gave the day after the massacre in Orlando. It will presumably be a massive anti-Hillary oppo-dump presented in the form of a speech.
Hillary murdered Vince Foster. Hillary said let our ambassador in Libya and those three others die in Benghazi. Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky! And so on and so forth, but Marshall sees a problem with all that:
Trump’s biggest liability at this point is the public’s congealing perception that Trump is an emotionally unstable, erratic liar who may voice certain genuine popular grievances but is just not a safe person to make president. That means that Trump’s biggest priority is to show that he’s normal, sane, balanced – someone remotely suitable to be president.
That’s a tough bill if you’re also trying to dramatically shake up the race or make news.
Even if Trump isn’t nuts and gives a polished, telepromptered speech, arguing his plans for a better America and the shortcomings of his opponent, that would probably go over like a lead balloon. Are you going to be certain to tune in to the next Hillary speech? No, because she’s normal. You have a sense of roughly what she’ll say. She’s not a train wreck that is impossible not to watch. Trump is. Unless he gets a lobotomy and gives a stolid and routine speech you might expect from someone demonstrating a temperament for the job.
That won’t happen. He cannot be boring. Why would anyone want to be boring? No one would vote for anyone who is boring, but that’s a trap:
To put it simply, the kind of drama and over-the-top style he needs, to grab attention and pivot the direction of the race, is in fact his greatest liability and what he most needs to change. That’s all of his own doing, the product of a year of impulsive acting out, playing to the emotions of the most aggrieved segments of the electorate. But there it is. He’s in a box.
It was obviously time to change the game, so that’s what he did:
Donald Trump won a standing ovation from hundreds of Christian conservatives who came to New York City on Tuesday with a somewhat skeptical but willing attitude toward a man who has divided their group with comments on women, immigrants and Islam. In his comments, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee said he would end the decades-old ban on tax-exempt groups’ – including churches – politicking, called religious liberty “the No. 1 question,” and promised to appoint antiabortion Supreme Court justices.
“I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity – and other religions – is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly, and if you like somebody or want somebody to represent you, you should have the right to do it,” Trump said. A ban was put in place by President Lyndon Johnson on tax-exempt groups making explicit political endorsements. Religious leaders in America today, Trump said, “are petrified.”
As president, he said, he’d work on things including: “freeing up your religion, freeing up your thoughts. You talk about religious liberty and religious freedom, you don’t have any religious freedom if you think about it,” he told the group, which broke in many times with applause.
Throughout the talk Trump emphasized that America was hurting due to what he described as Christianity’s slide to become “weaker, weaker, weaker.” He said he’d get department store employees to say “Merry Christmas” and would fight restrictions on public employees, such as public school coaches, from being allowed to lead sectarian prayer on the field.
That was his sales pitch – make America Christian again – no anti-discrimination laws apply to Christians no matter what the Constitution says – and he was talking to the right people:
The audience included leaders and founders of many segments of the Christian Right, the evangelical movement that began in the 1970s under people including the late Jerry Falwell. Among those present and involved in the program Tuesday were Focus on the Family founder James Dobson (who is no longer with that group), former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed and evangelist Franklin Graham (son of evangelical icon Billy Graham).
But nothing is that simple:
While polls show that the majority of evangelicals – who make up about a fifth of the country – are favorable toward Trump, his campaign has bitterly divided Christian conservatives in general. Those who oppose him do so strongly, and later Tuesday, a separate group of conservatives – including leading evangelicals – were meeting to strategize about a possible third candidate. Some leading Christian conservatives used the meeting to speak out against Trump and his comments about immigrants, women, Muslims and others.
“This meeting marks the end of the Christian Right,” Michael Farris, a national homeschooling pioneer and longtime figure of the Christian Right, wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday. He noted that he was present at the first gathering of the Moral Majority in 1980: “The premise of the meeting in 1980 was that only candidates that reflected a biblical worldview and good character would gain our support. … Today, a candidate whose worldview is greed and whose god is his appetites (Philippians 3) is being tacitly endorsed by this throng. … This is a day of mourning.”
Catholic conservative Robert George, former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and a Princeton professor, declined to attend the meeting, saying that while he may think even lower of Hillary Clinton, he fears Trump will “in the end, bring disgrace upon those individuals and organizations who publicly embrace him. For those of us who believe in limited government, the rule of law, flourishing institutions of civil society and traditional Judeo-Christian moral principles, and who believe that our leaders must be persons of integrity and good character, this election is presenting a horrible choice. May God help us.”
Also Tuesday, Clinton picked up the endorsement of Deborah Fikes, well-known for her years as a leader with the National Association of Evangelicals and the World Evangelical Alliance.
Trump can’t catch a break, but he has his new committee:
At the end of the event, the campaign announced an “evangelical executive board,” which included 21 names: 20 men and one woman, former congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Others on the list included Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University and Reed.
None of them have any use for gay people, by the way. Trump’s outreach to the LGBT community – he’ll protect them from Muslims – just ended. And there was this:
Donald Trump questioned Hillary Clinton’s faith on Tuesday, claiming there’s “nothing out there” about the former secretary of state’s religious beliefs, according to a video captured by a conservative minister.
The video, taken by E.W. Jackson, a minister and former Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in Virginia, appeared to show part of Trump’s private meeting with evangelical leaders in New York City. Trump went on the attack during the conversation, saying there’s no information out there about Clinton’s faith.
“Now, she’s been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there’s no – there’s nothing out there,” Trump says in the video. “There’s like nothing out there.”
That’s not quite true, but Trump was implying a bit more here:
Clinton has brought up several times on the campaign trail that she is a Methodist. But Trump seemed to imply during that whatever Clinton believes would be influenced by President Barack Obama’s faith. Trump, a notorious leader of the “birther” movement who pressured Obama to release his birth certificate in the run-up to the 2012 election, long implied that the President was secretly a Muslim.
“It’s going to be an extension of Obama but it’s going to be worse, because with Obama you had your guard up,” he says in the video. “With Hillary you don’t, and it’s going to be worse.”
No, she’s a Methodist – the quiet and unassuming and somewhat boring Christians – you know, a Methodist, like George W. Bush – unless she’s a secret Muslim. Methodists can be like that, or something. Trump just says things. The Republicans will just have to live with that.
Meanwhile, in Columbus, Ohio:
Hillary Clinton pounded away on Tuesday at Donald J. Trump’s business record and economic proposals, seeking to turn his claims of astounding financial success and genius against him and predicting a recession and global panic if he is elected president.
In a stern but earnest-sounding 45-minute speech at an education center garage here, Mrs. Clinton took care to intermingle the policy proclamations of Mr. Trump and his professed image as a business success of the highest order.
“Donald Trump has said he’s qualified to be president because of his business record,” Mrs. Clinton said. “A few days ago he said – and I quote – ‘I’m going to do for the country what I did for my business.’ So let’s take a look.”
Though she leveled predictable blows against various Trump-branded products, noting that many items – Trump ties, Trump steaks, Trump furniture – were made outside the United States, Mrs. Clinton’s most pointed refrains sought to depict Mr. Trump, her presumptive Republican opponent, as an enemy to the very people he had claimed to champion in the primary.
She checked off the stumbles of his casino business in Atlantic City; disparaged his companies’ bankruptcies (Mr. Trump’s many books about business “all seem to end at Chapter 11,” she joked); and insisted that his “one move” in business and politics was to make “over-the-top promises” and then let people down.
Mrs. Clinton invoked her father, who owned a small drapery business in Chicago, as she described Mr. Trump’s history of failing to pay painters, waiters, plumbers and other contractors who had completed work for him.
“My late father was a small-businessman,” she said. “If his customers had done what Trump did, my dad would never have made it. So I take this personally.”
She added, “This is not normal behavior.”
There’s much more, and this:
Mr. Trump, posting repeatedly on Twitter to counter Mrs. Clinton, said he planned to make his own “big speech” Wednesday to discuss her “failed policies and bad judgment.”
Yeah, we know, but add this:
On Tuesday morning, Mrs. Clinton’s team released a video, Bad Businessman, featuring clips of figures including Mitt Romney and Senators Marco Rubio and Elizabeth Warren insulting assorted Trump-branded ventures.
“What ever happened to Trump Airlines?” Mr. Romney asks in one excerpt, taken from a speech he made in March that struck a similar tone to Mrs. Clinton’s.
By early evening, Mr. Trump’s team had responded with its own site, LyingCrookedHillary.com, which was not immediately functional but would be in coming days, according to the campaign.
Trump’s new hard-hitting hit-back website wasn’t functional yet? Perhaps there were no funds to hire content-developers. There were no funds generally. Trump really is failing at exactly the things he’s supposed to be so good at. What is the rationale for his presidency again?