In a break with recent presidential nominees, Donald Trump said Tuesday he does not plan to release any of his tax returns before the November elections because of an ongoing IRS audit.
“There’s nothing to learn from them,” Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press, further claiming that he does not believe voters are interested in their contents.
In late March, Trump’s campaign released a letter from his lawyers showing that his finances are indeed under audit. The Manhattan businessman has said his lawyers have urged him, purely out of financial interest, not to make his tax returns public before the audit is fully concluded. But shelving the returns would also avoid thorny questions regarding his net worth — which he repeatedly exaggerates by billions of dollars — as well as potential attacks over the exact number he would personally save from his tax cuts on the wealthy.
Opting not to release any of his returns to the public, however, may not be the most politically savvy thing to do. Democrats effectively made Mitt Romney’s wealth and tax returns an issue during the 2012 presidential campaign. They would likely do so again, suggesting Trump is hiding something unpalatable from the public. They could even clip Romney’s words, after the former Massachusetts governor earlier this year stirred the pot by claiming Trump’s tax returns are likely to contain “a bombshell.”
The brash real estate mogul has defied conventional campaign wisdom, however. Attempting to portray Trump as a wealthy plutocrat — essentially the Romney playbook — may not be the most effective strategy because of his populist rhetoric and shifting positions. The findings of a recent Democratic focus group, for example, showed voters aren’t yet convinced of arguments that Trump’s policy proposals would benefit the rich.
Those opinions could change with his shift to the general. Politico reported on Wednesday that Trump is revamping his tax plan to make it more palatable to GOP elites with the aid of supply-side advocates like CNBC host Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore of The Heritage Foundation.
As to Trump’s claim that voters do not care for the contents of his tax returns, he may be on more solid footing than Democrats would have you believe. There hasn’t been much polling this cycle on the topic of presidential candidates releasing tax returns, but Gallup found Americans divided on the matter in July 2012. Forty-seven percent of respondents in the poll said tax returns are largely irrelevant, while 44 percent said they provide voters with useful information to consider their voting choice.
UPDATE: 10:40 p.m. — Trump attempted to walk back the Associated Press interview Wednesday evening, telling Fox News host Greta van Susteren that he hopes to release his tax returns before the election but that the audit is preventing him from doing so.
“You said you don’t intend to release your tax returns,” van Susteren said.
“I didn’t say that,” Trump responded. “I am being audited … The answer is hopefully before the election. I will release, and I would like to release.”
According to the IRS, Trump’s excuse is invalid. In February, the agency clarified that “nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.”
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.