Below, we run through some of the most strained and poorly worded arguments, with most of them featuring Trump's most Trumpian political surrogate, Rudy Giuliani.
1) Giuliani: “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 a lot of work for the FBI checking out her emails?”
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Giuliani pressed the case that Trump's tax gamesmanship made him a genius. "What he did was he took advantage of something that could save his enterprise, and he did something we admire in America," Giuliani said.
But then he offered the above quote, which — whether he meant it the way it came out or not — includes Giuliani saying that "a man" who is an "economic genius" who would be "a lot better for the United States than a woman."
Giuliani finishes his thought by saying why he thinks this "woman" would be so bad, but it just sounds bad. Why invoke gender at all?
2) Chris Christie: "This is actually a very, very good story for Donald Trump."
On "Fox News Sunday," the New Jersey governor actually tried to argue that the story was a good one for Trump (!).
As I said above, I'm not sure this will fundamentally change the race. Trump has long been arguing that he has taken advantage of a broken system as a businessman, including with his donations to Democrats like Hillary Clinton. He says the country needs someone who knows how to exploit the system in order to fix it.
But if this is actually such a good story for Trump, why not just admit that he has skillfully avoided paying income taxes for decades? You don't even have to release your tax returns. Just say: Yep, I did it. And yet they still aren't totally confirming it.
The campaign's decisions not to admit this or to release his tax returns suggest they don't see this storyline as being particularly helpful for them. It might not be as damaging as some think it is, but it's very unlikely to help — and Team Trump knows that.
3) Giuliani: "Well, first of all, a lot of the people that are poor take advantage of loopholes and pay no taxes. Those are loopholes, also, and they pay no taxes."
In this exchange from MTP, Giuliani likens the complicated tax-avoidance method Trump might have used to what tens of millions of poor people do on their taxes.
But the reason that poor Americans are able to avoid paying income taxes — and about 43 percent avoid them, according to the Tax Policy Center — is that they are poor. The system is set up to tax higher earners at higher rates because they aren't scraping by. It is set up to exempt poor people from paying taxes because they don't have much money.
Also, the term "loophole" suggests these Americans are using some kind of complex workaround comparable to what Trump is doing — loophole is defined as "an ambiguity or omission in the text through which the intent of a statute, contract, or obligation may be evaded" — when in the vast majority of cases, it's simply because they don't make enough money and that's the way the system is supposed to work.
On a purely political level, telling all of these Americans that Trump is doing basically the same thing they are doing on their taxes seems like a bad idea, given he's a billionaire.
4) Newt Gingrich: "The Times takes losses. Does anyone think [publisher Arthur] Sulzberger pays extra taxes?"
The NY Times attack on Trump was the height of leftwing dishonesty. The Times takes losses. Does anyone think Sulzberger pays extra taxes ?— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) October 2, 2016
Again, the Trump team is making comparisons that just aren't apples-to-apples. Businesses do take losses, as do real estate moguls like Trump. But real estate moguls have a unique workaround that they can use. Allen Sloan explains over at Wonkblog:
The major takeaway from the three pages of Trump’s 1995 returns that the Times made public is that Trump is right when he says the system is rigged. What he doesn’t say is that it’s rigged in his favor and in the favor of people like him — and against regular people, those of us who earn money, pay income tax on it, and financially support the country in which we live. ...To give you the brief version, people who qualify as real estate developers or managers can use depreciation deductions to offset non-real-estate income. But people who don’t qualify for this special treatment can't do that. (For full details, ask a tax expert about Section 469 of the tax code.)
Also: it's worth noting that the New York Times isn't actually on the ballot in the fall.
5) Giuliani: "First of all, what you failed to leave out of what you said — and it's not your fault, it's the New York Times' fault — is that this is perfectly legal. And the Times makes that point about 26 paragraphs into the opinion."
This is from Giuliani's interview on CNN's "State of the Union" above.
And here is the very first paragraph of the Times' piece (emphasis added):
Donald J. Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns, a tax deduction so substantial it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years, records obtained by The New York Times show.
The Times piece also never argues or hints that anything about this was illegal. It states pretty clearly that he was working within the system.
6) Giuliani: "Everybody" has infidelities
This was separate from the tax issues, but it was a doozy. Chuck Todd asked Giuliani why he is pressing Trump to attack Clinton for her comments during the Monica Lewinsky scandal when he himself had an affair as mayor of New York and was accused by his ex-wife of having a sexual relationship with a staffer:
TODD: But your past? You have your own infidelities, sir.GIULIANI: Well, everybody does, and I — you know, I'm a Roman Catholic and I confess those things to my priest. But I've never — I've never, ever attacked someone who has been the victim — who has been the victim of sexual abuse. Not only that, I've put people in jail who have been the victim of sexual abuse, and I've never participated in that. And I think — and I think you're bringing up my personal life; really, it's kind of irrelevant to what Hillary Clinton did. She's running for president, I'm not.
Two problems: First, Giuliani says "everybody" has their own infidelities, which makes no sense. Second, his own personal past — and Trump's documented infidelity — would very much be fair game should this become an issue. And when you're making such an attack, it's best to have the moral high ground.