WASHINGTON – The U.S. presidential candidates are trudging deeper into personal muck as they enter the campaign’s final month in a sludge of stories about sex and personal finances.
October could be full of surprises.
Donald Trump was on a campaign stage over the weekend engaging in unsubstantiated speculation about his opponent’s sex life — this at the very moment the New York Times released a story questioning whether he’d avoided paying taxes for decades.
“I don’t even think she’s loyal to Bill if you want to know the truth,” Trump said, to the cheers of partisans. He added with a chuckle: “And really, folks, really, why should she be?”
His increasing forays into sexual innuendo struggled to compete with a story about Trump: that a candidate whose main selling point is his business brilliance claimed to have suffered such catastrophic losses that it may have helped him avoid taxes for years.
Trump declared a personal loss of US$916 million in 1995, according to a document delivered by an anonymous tipster to the New York Times. The newspaper consulted tax experts who said that claim could have made him eligible to avoid paying taxes for up to 18 years.
Trump has refused to publish his taxes like all other presidential candidates since 1976 so it’s unknown how much he pays; how much he owes creditors; and how much he donates to charity.
His campaign surrogates downplayed the story. Rudy Giuliani did a round of Sunday talk-show appearances where he cited the massive loss of money, followed by possible non-payment of taxes, and a financial comeback, as an act of brilliance.
“My response is he’s a genius,” said Giuliani, comparing Trump to other comeback artists Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs. “Absolute genius.” He added in an ABC interview: “Don’t you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman, and the only thing she’s ever produced is lots of work for the FBI checking out her emails?”
He also addressed the sexual innuendo. In a heated exchange, an NBC interviewer questioned whether Giuliani had any business discussing others’ infidelity given that the former New York mayor cheated on and left his first wife.
Giuliani shot back: “Well, everybody does. You know, I’m a Roman Catholic and I confess those things to my priest.” He said the more relevant issue is Hillary Clinton’s history of helping her husband cover up his affairs, as they smeared the women involved.
Yes — the Trump campaign’s going there.
He’s started referring to it in speeches. His surrogate on the Sunday talk shows engaged in it. In another testy exchange on CNN, an interviewer called some of the comments about it unhinged, wild and inexcusable.
But Giuliani said her protection of her husband through infidelity and allegations of unwanted sexual advances or assault, dating back years, is fair game. Trump allies accuse her of being part of political damage-control operations involving Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey.
There could be more. A Trump confidant tweeted that Wikileaks would release more damaging revelations about Clinton, as it has promised to do after recently publishing emails believed to have been stolen by Russian hackers.
The latest exchanges come after a week where Trump’s campaign was overshadowed by an old feud with a former Miss Universe. It’s a spat campaign aides begged him to leave alone.
The Republican nominee eagerly engaged in back-and-forth over Alicia Machado for days, alluding to her weight gain, tweeting at 3 a.m. about her sexual past, and basically swallowing the bait Clinton had set by referring to Machado in last week’s debate.
A Trump supporter pleaded with him to stop.
“It’s hurting him,” Rachel Campos-Duffy told a CNN panel.
“He needs to win suburban moms and he needs to win Hispanics and those are going to be very pivotal demographics in this election. If you think (this story is) playing a lot on American media look at Spanish TV… It’s all over the place.'”
Clinton was overwhelmingly deemed the winner of the debate by every scientific poll. She also leads election polls, although the race is close.
Now tax experts are weighing in on Trump’s finances.
One heaped scorn Sunday on a claim from the Trump side. Giuliani told at least three interviewers that if Trump didn’t pay taxes it’s because he had no choice. He said Trump had to take advantage of every available loophole or he’d have been sued by his creditors and business partners for wasting money.
A professor of corporate law called that explanation cringe-worthy. By that logic, she said, anybody could sue any business partner for making a charitable donation. She said he could never be sued successfully, unless he specifically promised a creditor in a contract that he would minimize his tax bill.
“It’s legal jibberish,” said Lynn Stout, professor at Cornell University and author of the award-winning book, The Shareholder Value Myth.
“As an individual you do not have a duty to minimize your tax bill. Or to produce the most profits possible.”