The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As news of Trump’s taxes breaks, he goes off script at a rally in Pennsylvania

Watch Trump go off script at a Pennsylvania rally. (Video: Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)
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MANHEIM, Pa. — Donald Trump's campaign announced Saturday evening that the candidate would soon deliver a nine-sentence critique of comments Hillary Clinton made months ago about many of the millennials supporting her primary rival, Bernie Sanders. It was an attempt to latch onto a new headline in hopes of finally escaping the controversies that had consumed his week.

It didn’t work.

It took Trump nearly 25 minutes to read the brief statement because he kept going off on one angry tangent after another — ignoring his teleprompters and accusing Clinton of not being “loyal” to her husband, imitating her buckling at a memorial service last month, suggesting that she is “crazy” and saying she should be in prison. He urged his mostly white crowd of supporters to go to polling places in "certain areas" on Election Day to "watch" the voters there. He also repeatedly complained about having a "bum mic" at the first presidential debate and wondered if he should have done another season of “The Apprentice.”

As Trump ranted in this rural Pennsylvania town, The New York Times reported it had anonymously received Trump’s 1995 income tax returns, which show he declared a loss of $916 million -- a loss that he could use to avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.

Report: Trump could have avoided paying taxes for 18 years

The New York Times says a $916 million loss in the '90s might have allowed Donald Trump to legally avoid paying any income taxes for almost two decades (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

The evening capped one of Trump's worst weeks of the campaign season, one that started with his shaky debate performance on Monday night and went on to include a public feud with a former beauty queen, a middle-of-the-night tweet storm, attacks on the Clintons' marriage and an examination of a decades-old adult film that briefly featured Trump fully clothed.

The rally started more than an hour and 40 minutes late because heavy fog delayed Trump’s arrival. His supporters grew tired of his looping musical playlist, at one point chanting: “Turn it off! Turn it off!”

When Trump finally took the stage, it was clear that he was worked up about something as he quickly rushed through his usual talking points. He read the first sentence of the prepared statement: “A new audio tape that has surfaced — just yesterday — from another one of Hillary’s high-roller fundraisers shows her demeaning and mocking Bernie Sanders and all of his supporters.”

Rather than continuing, Trump demeaned and mocked Sanders himself, saying that he has “a much bigger movement than Bernie Sanders ever had” and that he has “much bigger crowds than Bernie Sanders ever had.” Trump accused Sanders of tarnishing his legacy by making a “deal with the devil” and supporting Clinton.

“Crazy Bernie,” Trump said at one point.

Here's another time a Trump rally turned into a rant: Nov. 13 in Fort Dodge, Ia.

Eventually, Trump read a few more sentences, telling the audience that Clinton had described Sanders supporters as “living in their parents’ basements” and being trapped in dead-end jobs. Clinton made these comments more than seven months ago and seemed to sympathize with millennials who supported Sanders, although Republicans have tried to frame the remarks as an attack on young voters.

“In a really sarcastic tone because she’s a sarcastic woman,” Trump dryly said, going off-script.

He resumed his scripted spot: “To sum up…”

But he interrupted himself: “And I’ll tell you the other thing: She’s an incompetent woman. And I’ve seen it. She’s an incompetent woman.”

What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

MANCHESTER, NH - NOVEMBER 7: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at SNHU Arena in Manchester, NH on Monday November 07, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Halfway through the statement, Trump took a nearly 20-minute-long break to cover a range of topics, including these:

— He reflected on how his movement has “the smartest people… the sharpest people… the most amazing people.” He said the pundits — “most of them aren’t worth the ground they’re standing on, some of that ground could be fairly wealthy ground” — have never seen a phenomenon like this.

— He asked that the crowd if they are proud of President Obama, and they answered with a booming: “No!”

— He told the crowd to get a group of friends together on Election Day, vote and then go to “certain areas” and “watch” the voters there. "I hear too many bad stories, and we can't lose an election because of you know what I'm talking about,” Trump said. “So, go and vote and then go check out areas because a lot of bad things happen, and we don't want to lose for that reason.”

— He declared that he won Monday night’s debate even though he had a “bum mic.” He asked the crowd if they think that “maybe that was done on purpose.” They cheered.

— He recounted how the “dopes at CNN” and “phony pundits” refused to acknowledge how well he was doing during the primaries. “Then we started getting 52 percent, 58 percent, 66 percent, 78 percent, 82 percent," Trump said, not making clear what those numbers mean. "And they just didn’t understand what was going on.”

— He said Clinton could not fight bad trade deals or Russian President Vladimir Putin because “she can't make it 15 feet to her car,” alluding to video that showed Clinton buckling as she unexpectedly left a 9/11 memorial service early. Her doctor later said she had pneumonia. Trump then imitated Clinton by flailing his arms and jostling side to side. He walked unsteadily away from the podium as if he were about to fall over. “Folks, we need stamina,” Trump said. “We need energy.”

— He claimed that he has a “winning temperament” while Clinton has “bad temperament.” Trump continued: “She could be crazy. She could actually be crazy.”

Trump read one more sentence of the statement and accused Clinton of saying that “most of the country is racist” because she said at the debate that “implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police.”

Two days after the debate, Trump responds to Clinton's comment on implicit bias

“Did anybody like Lester Holt?” Trump said, naming the debate moderator as his crowd booed.

Trump read one more sentence of the statement, then brought up Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

“She should be in prison, let me tell you,” Trump said. “She should be in prison.”

The crowd cheered and chanted: “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!”

“And she’s being totally protected by The New York Times and The Washington Post and all of the media and CNN — Clinton News Network, which nobody is watching anyways so what difference does it make,” Trump said.

Trump accused Clinton of “lies and lies.”

“How many people have acid-washed or bleached a tweet?” Trump asked the crowd. “How many? That you deleted? So you deleted it but that’s not good enough. No, this is getting crazy. Our country is becoming a third-world country.”

Trump read the final sentence of the statement but by that point, he had overshadowed his campaign’s planned headline with numerous other ones. And he kept adding to the list.

Trump called Clinton a “lousy speaker” and accused her of giving away the jobs of hardworking Pennsylvanians to please her donors.

“You’re unsuspecting,” Trump said. “Right now, you say to your wife: ‘Let’s go to a movie after Trump.’ But you won’t do that because you’ll be so high and so excited that no movie is going to satisfy you. Okay? No movie. You know why? Honestly? Because they don’t make movies like they used to — is that right?”

Trump yelled at the media to show his crowd, which he said would make for “better television,” pledged to win Pennsylvania and called supporters of international trade “blood suckers.”

“Oh, I could be doing the ‘Apprentice’ right now,” Trump said at one point, seeming to harken back to a happier time in his life. “I loved it — 14 seasons. How good was that? Tremendous success. They wanted to extend — I could be doing the ‘Apprentice’ now. Somehow I think this is a little bit more important. Do we agree? Just a little bit?”

How reality TV gave us reality candidate Donald Trump

As he spoke, dozens of people left the rally early, tired from standing for hours and hoping to beat the traffic. Those who remained leaned against walls, barricades and each other. One woman rubbed her knees. Another took a phone call: “I’m still here… He started an hour and a half late… I’ll call you whenever we get out of here.”

“I didn’t need to do this, folks,” Trump said of his candidacy. “Believe me. This is tough work… This is hard work. Believe me, folks. This is hard work.”

Trump told the crowd he’s beholden to his supporters and no one else.

“Hillary Clinton’s only loyalty is to her financial contributors and to herself,” Trump said. “I don’t even think she’s loyal to Bill, if you want to know the truth.”

The crowd gasped and many shouted: “Ohhhhh!”

Trump shrugged.

“And really, folks,” Trump continued, “really, why should she be? Right? Why should she be?”

At a rally in Manheim, Pa., Donald Trump says his rival Hillary Clinton is only loyal "to her financial contributors and to herself." (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: John Locher/The Washington Post)

He questioned how the Clintons earned so many tens of millions of dollars. He told a guy in the crowd he loved him even though he’s a guy. He pursed his lips as his supporters interrupted him with another “lock her up” chant. He reminded everyone that Bill Clinton was impeached because “everyone forgets.” He accused the media of allowing Clinton to “get away with murder.” He said African Americans will vote for him because he will fix their impoverished, dangerous neighborhoods that are “worse than war zones.”

“People walk to the office, they walk to get a loaf of bread, they get shot, their child gets shot,” Trump said.

He rattled off some campaign promises —taxes, energy, coal, farms — and then paused to note the upcoming 10th anniversary of the mass shooting at an Amish schoolhouse here in Lancaster County that left five girls dead.

“Tonight when you say your prayers, I ask you to remember those five young beautiful girls and their families,” Trump said. “Another issue we’re going to deal with is in certain ways so important. But when I tell you about what I just did, that is a special group of people. So say prayers, please. Okay? Just remember those people and what they went through.”

Ten years ago her son killed Amish children. Their families immediately embraced her.

It had seemed as if Trump was about to talk about gun control measures — which he has sharply opposed — but then stopped himself. Later in the speech he would praise the leaders of the NRA and promise to protect the 2nd Amendment.

He shifted back to trade and jobs moving overseas, repeating himself from earlier. And he complained again about his “bad mic” at the debate and “this character Lester Holt” who corrected him more than Clinton.

“You have 38 days to make every dream you ever dreamed for your country come true,” Trump said. “Do not let this opportunity slip away or be wasted. You will never ever have this chance again. Not going to happen again… You have one magnificent chance.”

Trump said he was finishing up but he kept going for seven more minutes. He congratulated himself on predicting the Brexit vote. He plugged a speech his daughter Ivanka Trump is giving in the state next week. He listed endorsements. He pointed at an American flag on stage. And he complained about Clinton’s “false” commercials.

“We are going to make America wealthy again,” Trump said as he wrapped up. “We are going to make America strong again. We are going to make America powerful again. We are going to make America safe again. And we are going to make America great again.”

Trump thanked and blessed the crowd, pumped his fist in the air and then stepped aside to join them in applauding his speech.