Mitt Romney says there may be a “bombshell” in Trump’s tax returns. Would it matter if there was?

Mitt Romney, in a fit of irony, suggested yesterday that the reason Donald Trump has not yet released his tax returns is because he has something to hide.

This, from the former candidate who in 2012 initially refused to release his tax returns because he had something to hide — that something being the fact that he had used every loophole available to pay a ridiculously low tax rate.

Romney wasn’t just talking about Trump — he also expressed concern that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have also not yet released their taxes — but he did place greater emphasis on Trump’s lack of disclosure. As he told Fox’s Neil Cavuto, “Frankly, I think we have a good reason to believe that there’s a bombshell in Donald Trump’s taxes.”

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

As he continued, “I think there’s something there. Either he’s not anywhere near as wealthy as he says he is or he hasn’t been paying the kind of taxes we would expect him to pay, or perhaps he hasn’t been giving money to the vets or to the disabled like he’s been telling us he’s doing.”

Ok, sure. There is probably all kinds of stuff in Donald Trump’s tax returns that, if they showed up in any other politicians’ tax returns, would be some combination of damaging and embarrassing. Mitt Romney knows this all too well. But Donald Trump is not a normal politician, who pretends they are a bastion of morality until proven otherwise. Donald Trump has never pretended to be anything other than a shady businessman. He’s always been greedy, and now he wants to be greedy for America. Being a tax dodger wouldn’t blow a hole in his narrative; it’d enforce it.

We don’t have to guess what Trump’s reaction would be if it was revealed that Donald Trump pays lower taxes than his secretary. We have a somewhat analogous case study. At multiple times during the campaign cycle, people have asked Donald Trump to explain why he’s such a good businessman if he’s declared bankruptcy four times. Check out his answer:

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In Trump’s telling, his bankruptcies aren’t a problem because he, like other wealthy businessmen, used the available laws to his fullest advantage. And he wants to do that for the country. He even implied that he would do something similar regarding our national debt, and while Trump magically waving our obligations away may be emotionally satisfying for viewers who know that the debt is a very big number but not how it works, doing so would both destroy our credit rating and cause a global economic meltdown. In short, Trump turned a personal negative into a political positive while promising disaster. And the voters loved it.

This is basically how his answer on any tax revelations will go. Gaming the system to pay a low rate? He’s using the laws available to his advantage, just like anyone else would do in that situation. After all, no one knows the tax laws like Trump. Not as much money in there as he’s claimed in public? Since when has that been a problem? Not as much money given to charity as he says he’s given? Since when did he say he donated anything personally? All donations to the vets are going through his foundation. Besides, he’s been busted for skimping on charitable claims before.

What’s more, this is a Republican electorate that has been told for decades that taxes are bad, and has been told for the last seven years that tax evasion is patriotic. There is a significant and growing subset of the Republican Party that believes sincerely that taxes are unconstitutional theft. The “grassroots” movement that emerged in opposition to President Obama is named after a tax revolt. When it was revealed in 2012 that Mitt Romney had used offshore tax shelters in the Bermuda and Switzerland to avoid paying US taxes, Lindsey Graham defended him, saying it was “really American” to use whatever legal means available to avoid giving money to the IRS.

How did Graham frame his argument? “I don’t blame anybody for using the tax code to their advantage.”

Sound familiar?

None of Romney’s hypothetical bombshells would in fact be bombshells for Trump. He’s set a different standard for himself, and his voters are fine with it. If the Republican establishment wants to bring him down, they’re going to have to do better than a dig that worked against them four years ago.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • slacker42

    The hypocrisy of mittens complaining about a candidate not releasing their tax returns is hilarious.

  • ComradeRutherford

    What hump?

  • ComradeRutherford

    “I’m guessing there’s a strong possibility that the GOP is floating a few trial balloons to see how people react.”

    I agree.

  • ComradeRutherford

    The worst thing that could be revealed in tRump’s taxes would be that checkbox to give money to the presidential election fund. Republicans HATE that…

  • nicho

    OK, Jon — it looks like you’re missing the real story here. Don’t worry, everyone else is missing it too.
    The tax issue is a red herring. What’s important here is that Mittens, who has been virtually absent from the political scene for three years, is all of a sudden, making an appearance. Why and why now? I’ve seen a whole bunch of stories about him.

    I’m guessing there’s a strong possibility that the GOP is floating a few trial balloons to see how people react. They’re desperate. They hate Trump, but he has them by the balls. No one else in the running is worth the powder to blow them to hell. A sad bunch of losers.

    Romney, as bad as he is, is better than all of them put together. He has name recognition. He has a machine (it’s called the Mormon Church), and he really, really, really would like to be president. Granted he lost the last time, but he was running against an incumbent. This time, the job is open.

    He just could be the “White Knight” the GOP brings out to keep Trump from getting the nomination. He’d wipe out Cruz, Rubio, etc at the convention. It may seem far-fetched, but at this point, what options do the GOP have?

    Look for Mittens to make a few more “observations” from the sidelines. Once they see how people react — and he is getting coverage, even on Americablog — they may make their move.

  • FLL

    Up to now Republicans have been pleased to say, “That’s pronounced Fran-ken-steen. I bet that by the Republican convention, the “establishment” Republicans will finally say, “I am a Frankenstein! Apologies to Mel Brooks.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxxSIX3fmmo

  • FLL

    Would financial scandals in Trump’s past phase his supporters? Apparently they are unfazed that Trump declared corporate bankruptcy four times, so that should give you an indication. Trump’s supporters are most concerned about stopping nonwhites (including mestizo Mexicans) from acquiring a greater share of power. All other considerations take a back seat among the Trump crowd. So no, I don’t think Trump supporters would be worried if he cheated on his income taxes.

  • Trump has allied himself with white supremacists. He’s spouted any number of overtly racist and misogynistic remarks. He’s boasted twice now about committing murder and not losing a single supporter over it. He’s begun advocating both war and war crimes. He’s been urging his supporters to commit acts of violence against his political opponents. Oh, and his wife has appeared in several soft-core porn photo spreads and Trump himself wants to bang his own daughter.

    None of these appear to have a negative effect on his numbers because he’s tapped into the roughly 30% of registered Republicans who are genuinely vile people, and another subset of those who until this year weren’t GOP because the party as it existed until now wasn’t extreme enough for them.

    It’s interesting now to see the Republicans flailing about in panic to see what they can do to derail his candidacy. But they created their own monster.

  • marknc

    Of course Romney should know – he refused to release his taxes more than 2 years back for the same reason.

    Will it matter? No. If Republicans find out he cheated every way possible, they will cheer and call him a hero.

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