Suckers to the right of me, losers to the left… (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

THE MORNING PLUM:

With the battle continuing to rage over Donald Trump’s ongoing suggestion that he may not release his tax returns before the November election, this exchange with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulous, which took place a few moments ago, provides a glimpse into what Trump really thinks about all this:

TRUMP: I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What is your tax rate?

TRUMP: It’s none of your business. You’ll see it when I release. But I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.

Trump’s claim that his tax rate is “none of your business” is generating buzz this morning. But the more important quote is his boast that he “fights very hard to pay as little tax as possible.” He deliberately repeated this, as if to make sure we would not miss it.

In one sense, this is dream fodder for Democratic ads, particularly since Dems are hoping to continue pressuring Trump to release his returns, and to portray his refusal to do so as evidence he’s trying to hide shady or immoral business practices, a line of attack that was probably effective against Mitt Romney in 2012.

But Trump plainly sees this as a positive for him, and that goes to the heart of his whole case for the presidency. In the interview, Trump said that he fights to keep his tax burden low because government “wastes” our tax dollars. Trump’s immediate goal is to undercut the potency of the attack on him over taxes: By openly boasting that he works to keep his tax burden low, he hopes to dispel the notion that he’s hiding something.

There’s more to this, though. With Dems likely to grow more aggressive in unearthing and targeting Trump’s business past, his pushback on whatever revelations pop up will basically be this: You’re damn right I’ve been a scummy businessman. Now I want to be a scummy businessman on your behalf and on America’s behalf. It cannot be overstated how important this idea is to his candidacy, and indeed, to his entire self-created mystique. The idea is that, having long been a member of the elite that has milked the corrupt system for decades, he is very well positioned to end their scam — he knows how it works from the inside — and reform that corrupt system.

On the topic of campaign finance, Trump has said this explicitly, arguing that he knows how to deal with the problem of bought-and-paid-for politicians, since he has personally bought and paid for them himself. I strongly suspect that Trump will soon begin saying something like this about his taxes: Since I fight so hard to pay as little as possible, I get how the whole con works; I will fix things so people like me can’t get away with it anymore. That, too, will be a scam, since his tax plan would actually deliver a huge windfall to the rich that is pure fantasy, fiscally speaking. But no matter. Scam can be layered on top of scam, and Trump is certain he will get away with all of it.

The crux of the matter here is that Trump is betting he’ll be perceived very differently from Mitt Romney. The latter was a venture capitalist with an aloof, patrician, plutocratic manner, while Trump brashly flaunts his wealth and invites all of us losers to have a cut of it. But Dems will likely adjust their attack accordingly: While Romney was depicted as a heartless outsourcer and symbol of the cruelties of global capitalism, thus revealing his true governing priorities, Trump will be depicted as a sleazy fraud who is selling voters an economic bill of goods.

Trump hopes to elude that attack by wearing his ability to milk the system as a chintzy badge of honor. But at a certain point, general election voters will begin to decide how credible he is, and they may not be as easily fooled as GOP primary voters were — particularly since Democrats are likely to prosecute him far more mercilessly than his GOP rivals did. Trump is confident that his credibility is inexhaustible, but that could prove as inflated as his stated bottom-line worth appears to be.

Donald Trump's stance on presidential candidates has changed significantly over the years. Here's how. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

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* DEMS CRANK UP ASSAULT ON TRUMP OVER ABORTION: The pro-Clinton Super PAC and Planned Parenthood have jointly released a new video in which Trump is asked whether he’d appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Trump’s answer: “I will appoint judges that will be pro-life.”

It’s the latest sign that a massive onslaught of paid ads is coming, and one of its main goals will be to keep Trump’s negatives among women in the stratosphere, which is where they are right now.

* REPUBLICANS BEG TRUMP TO STOP BEING CRAZY: The Post reports on what is really going on in behind the scenes “unity” meetings between Trump and top Republicans:

Behind the public facade of harmony, House members and senators confronted Trump in the meetings with their concerns over specific policies or controversial statements that could hurt Republicans in the fall…The exchanges underscored the tightrope that many Republicans are attempting to walk with Trump, whose unfavorability numbers are at historic highs for a major party candidate. He faces particularly strong opposition among women and minorities.

A big part of all of this: Trump’s dismal approval ratings, due to his hobby of acting erratic and insulting everyone in sight. Get those numbers up, and suddenly “unity” will become a lot easier.

* YES, TRUMP WOULD CUT TAXES ON THE RICH: The New York Times nails it down:

After days of confusion over Donald J. Trump’s hints that he would change his tax plan to reduce its budget-busting cost and make it less generous to the rich, his spokeswoman on Thursday sought to clear things up: He plans no changes, Hope Hicks said, and advisers who say otherwise do not speak for him….Ms. Hicks succinctly dismissed any suggested discrepancy in an email: “There are no changes being made to the plan.”

Trump never actually said he would raise taxes on the rich, so much of this “confusion” is due to the media getting snookered by his supposed hints otherwise, but still: it’s good to have this cleared up.

* PRESSURE MOUNTS ON BERNIE TO GET OUT: The Associated Press reports that top supporters of Hillary Clinton are urging Sanders to exit the race, so she can focus on Trump:

Campaign aides say the two-front effort hampers their ability to target both Sanders supporters and Republican-leaning independents that may be open to her candidacy. It also means she’s spending time in primary states, rather than battlegrounds that will decide the general election….Sanders’ determination to contest every state remaining has kept Obama and Vice President Joe Biden largely on the sidelines, benching two of her most powerful advocates.

Eh. As long as Sanders doesn’t attack her too hard, it probably won’t make much of a difference if he stays in another few weeks.

* BERNIE FACES A DILEMMA: Meanwhile, Bloomberg Politics reports that Bernie Sanders faces a difficult choice: if he is staying in to increase his influence on the party in the general election and beyond, should he tone down the attacks on Hillary Clinton? As one senior Dem puts it:

“He could win by losing if he chooses the right tack. If he plays his cards right — help Hillary, help define Trump — he’ll go back to the Senate as an exceptionally powerful man with a movement. If he’s seen playing sore loser and constantly driving a knife into an opponent he’s not going to beat, he could go to the Senate as a pariah who really hurt the party’s chances.”

Other top Democrats agree with this assessment. Of course, how Hillary handles this endgame will also matter in terms of whether his supporters get behind her.

* WHY TRUMP WON’T RELEASE HIS TAX RETURNS: Paul Krugman suggests one reason:

Mr. Trump’s excuse, that he can’t release his returns while they’re being audited, is an obvious lie. On the contrary, the fact that he’s being audited (or at least that he says he’s being audited) should make it easier for him to go public….my guess, shared by a number of observers, is that the dirty secret hidden in those returns is that he isn’t as rich as he claims to be. In Trumpworld, the revelation that he’s only worth a couple of billion — maybe even less than a billion — would be utterly humiliating.

Yep. Trump values being seen as the winningest winner of all time above all else, because his raging ego won’t permit anything less, and because it’s central to what he thinks is a winning argument for the presidency.

* AND TRUMP REALLY, REALLY LOVES THE WOMEN: CNN digs up another Trump quote about women, this one from his 1997 book, “The Art of the Comeback”:

“The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers. The person who came up with the expression ‘the weaker sex’ was either very naïve or had to be kidding. I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye — or perhaps another body part.”

One can only imagine how much more stuff like this is still out there.