Donald Trump's Tax Return Response Proves He Wasn't Prepared For This
The New York Times unexpectedly published Donald Trump's 1995 tax return Saturday. While Trump's campaign almost immediately released a statement, claiming that the return was "obtained illegally," it also avoided elaboration on its veracity. Trump then reached out via social media to address his followers concerning the leaked tax returns, refusing for a second time to provide additional information about the return itself. Trump's tweet about his tax return was predictably Trumpian, proving that he was not ready for the storm brewing within this heated campaign issue. "I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president and am the only one who can fix them. #failing@nytimes," Trump tweeted early Sunday.
If anything, Trump and his campaign's response to the leak shows once again just how unprepared he is in the event of a PR crisis. He instantly jumped to blaming the "establishment media in general," claiming that the document was stolen (despite a lack of evidence), and trying to make a weak connection to Hillary Clinton in the campaign press release.
It seems clear from the response to this leak that there was never a plan in place to ever release Trump's tax data — assuming that the return is real, the campaign could have already created a media strategy for when the returns were released. The campaign now seems to be scrambling to come up with external forces to blame the situation on, rather than a cohesive narrative for how to spin the losses that undermine a central tenet of his campaign message.
One piece of evidence that indicates that the campaign was totally blindsided by the leak is the disputed claim that the return was obtained illegally. According to New York Times writer Susanne Craig, the return was anonymously delivered to her office mailbox with a return address from the Trump Organization. Trump's campaign didn't offer any evidence that someone within the Trump Organization was responsible, and seemingly blamed Clinton and The New York Times for the whole thing. The Times may actually face legal action for publishing an unauthorized federal tax return, but that doesn't do anything to prove that they were involved in obtaining the document.
Trump's tweet is almost verbatim from the original press statement, which read, "Mr. Trump knows the tax code far better than anyone who has ever run for President and he is the only one that knows how to fix it." He's not saying anything new on the issue, not denying the return's accuracy, and not sufficiently downplaying how big a blow this makes in his businessman public persona. Trump wasn't ready for what hit him, and his response to the leak makes that extremely clear.
Whether or not this makes a difference in the campaign remains to be seen. Trump has proven himself nearly invulnerable when it comes to media gaffes, which perhaps isn't surprising when a significant portion of the electorate isn't really voting for him, but just against Clinton. But the leak seems to show that Trump was shockingly unprepared for an event that was practically inevitable, prompting serious questions about why he wasn't ready for the release of his tax returns.