The prognosticators are wrong: A 'Trump as a tax-cheat' storyline does hurt Trump. Here's how.


Since the New York Times broke an explosive story on Trump's tax returns, revealing that Trump, a self-professed billionaire, has paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, and paid nothing at all in 10 of the 15 years ending in 2017, there's been a fascinating discussion among the media chatterboxes and leftist class warriors about what these revelations mean and how best Joe Biden and his allies should be using the story.

The common thread appears to be that Biden and Democrats should not frame this issue as Trump being a an out-of-touch rich person who evades taxes because, they argue, it would buttress Trump's own narrative that he is not only rich but also smart - and that's a winning argument for Trump. The usual suspects also argue that it's futile to point out that Trump is overleveraged and in massive debt, because, supposedly, Americans just won't understand.

This line of thought represents a fundamental misunderstanding of who Donald Trump is, what his campaign and personal narrative is built on, and what knocks him off kilter.

The entire fiction of Donald Trump as a successful businessman and a ruthless dealmaker is erected to obscure his true nature as an insecure, scared, ego-centric bully who's bankrupted a casino. It's not just his adversaries who believe this. Trump's own campaign has spent over $600,000 in ads in the DC media market - where Trump has no chance of capturing a single electoral vote - simply to soothe the ego of a man so insecure he spends $70,000 just make his hair look presentable. Trump may well be the first incumbent president in history to have had no primary challenge and still burn through a billion dollars only to languish in the low 40s in most polls.

That's where the tax story, as a personal dig, affects Trump. It isn't that Trump being a failure all his life will affect the votes of his most ardent fans. After all, four years ago Trump voters cast their ballots for a man who mocked a disabled reporter, was heard on tape laughing it up about sexually assaulting women, and called Mexican immigrants rapists and thugs - all moral crimes surely of a worse magnitude than tax evasion. But unlike insulting others, which Trump wears as a badge of honor, the story on his taxes and debt is a story of personal failure, and nothing affects a purely ego-driven individual like being exposed as a personal and financial failure.

That's not speculative, either. The Times report prompted a Twitter tirade from Trump this morning, in which Trump tries to re-pump his deflated image. One assumes that there's more where that came from.

You may ask, however, what benefit is it, ultimately, to Democrats in the election that Trump's ego gets bruised by this report - and from all indications, upcoming weekly bombsells. The benefit is that a bruised personal and financial ego knocks Trump - and by extension, the Republicans - off balance and off message. Just like his campaign needed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the DC media market just so Trump could satisfy his ego by watching his own ads on TV, the reverse is also true: the coverage of this story as Trump's personal failure - and ads it has already started to generate - will make Trump blather on about this on social media and campaign events, deprioritizing red meat messages for the Trump base, like the Supreme Court nomination or Trump's fraudulent campaign against mail-in ballots.

Donald Trump is, for better or for worse, the Trump campaign's trump card. He is the GOP's hope in downballot races. They cannot afford to have a candidate who is notoriously undisciplined to begin with swallow their plans in an inferno of his own rage.