Donald Trump’s tax returns take center stage for good reasons

Donald Trump spoke at a town hall on Monday, under mounting pressure to release his tax returns.
Donald Trump spoke at a town hall on Monday, under mounting pressure to release his tax returns. The Associated Press

The pressure on Donald Trump to release his tax returns comes not just from Democrats but plenty of Republicans supporting his bid for the presidency. They want to see this issue put to rest, if possible.

That’s just one of the reasons Trump should relent and release what all major party candidates have done for decades, which would include enough information to see total income, total federal taxes paid and charitable giving. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton previously has released about 15 years’ worth of tax information.

The New York Times over the weekend dropped the bombshell that Trump could have used a $900-million-plus loss included on his 1995 returns to offset future income over a total of the next 18 years.

Clinton highlighted Trump’s tax returns in the first presidential debate last week, raising the notion that Trump might not be paying his fair share to support the cost of running the U.S. government: “So if he’s paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health.”

Of course, there’s a big “if” in that assertion, one that Trump could clear up quite easily.

After last weekend’s revelations, Clinton could easily and predictably highlight the issue one more time in the second round of debates, scheduled Sunday at Washington University in St. Louis.

Trump could try to blunt that attack by releasing his returns. If they do, indeed, show he’s had to pay federal income taxes in recent years — as he has implied without providing actual proof in recent months — that could turn into a big “October surprise” from the Republican candidate.

Failure to release even a summary of what he’s paid in federal taxes would continue to stoke the campaign issue near and dear to the heart of Clinton supporters — that a rich guy isn’t paying taxes while many of his supporters are.

And the line from Trump’s backers that he’s a “genius” for how he’s using the U.S. tax system isn’t a winning argument. While the complicated U.S. federal tax code obviously could be revised to make it fairer to middle-class Americans, practically boasting about how you’re using the current system to your advantage isn’t a good idea.

Clinton and Trump differ dramatically on many other matters that are extremely important to the future of this nation. In this case, Trump has turned his net worth and his charitable giving into campaign issues by constantly boasting about them.

Releasing his tax returns could provide the facts to back up that braggadocio. Or not.