Amanda Marcotte, Salon, September 29, 2020
Using its agenda-setting powers for good instead of evil for once, the New York Times has released the second in a series of stories detailing exactly what kind of fraud Donald Trump is, using recently obtained copies of the tax returns the president has spent years desperately trying to hide.
This second one is a doozy, focusing as it does on how Trump, desperate for cash to prop up his failing empire, faked being a successful businessman on "The Apprentice." Then, because he is unbelievably bad at business, Trump managed to burn through the $424.7 million windfall he "earned" from that show, leaving him apparently dead broke before he announced his presidential campaign in 2015.
Much attention has been paid to the revelation from the first article in this series that Trump is a promiscuous tax cheat who uses all sorts of shady strategies — paying his daughter Ivanka as a "consultant" to hide money from the IRS, for one — to keep his income tax bill at zero in most years.
But this second article focuses on what is likely a far more potent slam against Trump in the eyes of the voters he'll need to win over if he wants to be re-elected in November: He is a comically terrible businessman. His real estate empire was kept on life support through ads with cartoon sheep and selling ringtones, as well multi-level marketing schemes and other ploys to defraud desperate people.
On Tuesday night we will see the first debate of the general election campaign. Right now, most liberal commentators are urging Trump's Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, to talk about Trump's extensive tax cheating. That would actually be a mistake.
Instead, Biden should focus on how Trump's entire claim to be a captain of industry is a lie, and the fact that he's barely stayed afloat through laundry soap ads and tricking people into taking phony classes at "Trump University." . . .
[T]here's a real danger for Biden in harping on the fact that Trump is a bad person: Doing so runs the risk of making Trump look tough, smart and strong. Instead, Biden should characterize Trump as weak and stupid, which is far more likely to turn off the kinds of voters Trump needs to win in swing states. . . .
Trump's propagandists on Fox News and talk radio get this. Rather than denying that Trump is a tax cheat — something Trump himself has bragged about — they're hyping the cheating as evidence that Trump is smart and knows how to work the system. . . .
Biden runs the risk of looking like the nagging police chief in an '80s cop drama, scolding our rogue-cop hero for bending the rules. Instead, Biden should try to kneecap Trump's efforts to look clever or strong by focusing on the fact that Trump was such an epic failure at business he needed to shill for laundry soap to keep his companies from collapsing entirely. . . .
I attended the Republican National Convention in 2016, and one of the most interesting things was how much the programming avoided mentioning "The Apprentice." Instead, Trump was portrayed as this Ayn Rand-style titan of real estate, with lots of photos of cranes and men in hard hats.
Propping up this lie that he's a successful real estate mogul is central to maintaining the Trump mystique. The truth — that his real estate empire is a failure, which was barely kept alive by cash from reality TV, commercial endorsements and fraud — offers the only hope of dimming Trump's reputation, among a certain segment of voters, as a smart and successful businessman.
Focusing on Trump's failures as a businessman is not only a delicious way to humiliate him and degrade him in the eyes of his fans, it offers a path to connect Trump's failings to the real-life impact on voters. . . .Trump is such a failure at real estate that he was forced to hawk mattresses and marketing scams in order to stay above water. Over the last four years, Trump has run the government exactly like he ran his businesses, by failing miserably to do his job and covering up his failures with a bunch of lies and TV pageantry. . . .
Trump doesn't care that he failed, because he believes he can fake success, "Apprentice"-style. Just last week, Trump declared on Fox News that he has done a "phenomenal job" and deserves an "A+" for his work on the pandemic.
Roger Sollenberger, Salon, September 29, 2020
Salon reached out to a number of Trump and Biden associates — as well as campaign veterans, including Omarosa Manigault-Newman, Michael Cohen, A.J. Delgado and Philippe Reines — to find out how each candidate can come out on top. . . .Philippe Reines, the longtime Democratic strategist who played the role of Trump in 2016 during Hillary Clinton's debate preparation: . . .
"After four years now, there are a million people who can impersonate Donald Trump, but if you don't know Joe Biden, that doesn't do much good," he said. "But remember that Trump is the most predictable, unpredictable person. In 2016, I told the Clinton team that 100% of what I'm about to say is going to sound insane, but 95% of it are the things he says all the time. Five percent he has said before but doesn't repeat often, and only the last 5% is my guessing of what he might say." . . ."Trump only has his rants, his rallies and his press conferences" to draw on, Reines said. Of contentious exchanges with reporters, "hardly any of it is a debate," and Trump "often ends press conferences in the middle of a question by walking out of the room." Given this record, Reines found it shocking that some pundits still predict that Trump could deliver a competent performance.
"Everything about him debating is a f**king mess," he said. "It's 2020. We've been through this for four years now, and I really hope there are no humans left on the plant who are saying, 'Will tonight be the night? Will he be presidential?' If you just plug in the guy we've all seen on TV for the last four years, take that guy and plug him into an audience a thousand times larger than what he's had on cable news — that's not going to go well for him," Reines said.
Former Trump 2016 campaign adviser A.J. Delgado said Trump no longer had a fastball to pitch. Instead, 2020 is "Trump Campaign: The Remix."
"Trump is losing. He knows it. His campaign knows it, so he's under a lot of pressure to turn the tide," she said. "He'll try to obfuscate tonight and turn the conversation to non-issues and fluff. He doesn't win on the economy — one recent study said Biden's jobs plan would create 7 million more jobs than Trump's," she continued. "He doesn't win on his handling of COVID. He doesn't win on any substantive issue. So he will try to spin, spin, spin and hope to sow confusion. . . . He has the most low-energy campaign team in history, with no new ideas." . . .
Manigault-Newman also highlighted a few area where she viewed Trump as particularly weak. "Trump will be reluctant to talk about Russian bounties, lack of a health care alternative and his disastrous COVID response," she predicted. "Oh, and of course, taxes. He will stick to his audit lie."
Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen appeared to agree on that front. He told Salon that Sunday's bombshell New York Times report about Trump's tax returns . . . is probably taking up valuable psychological space.
"Donald Trump's financial records are the Rosetta Stone for understanding the depth of his corruption and crimes, and the more it is unraveled the more he will unravel," Cohen said. "It's the reason he's fought so hard to keep it under wraps: His entire image and self-worth is based on an inflated financial worth." . . .Delgado contended that Trump was hurting from a dearth of campaign veterans who had lost control of an already-erratic candidate.
"There's no preparing him and, to be frank, he doesn't have top brass, top talent available to prep him anyway," she said. "We can already see they have nothing. They're out on social media tweeting lazy memes and questions like, 'Where's Hunter?' Look: No one cares about Hunter. And it's foolish, anyway, to open up that door to discussion of Ivanka's Chinese trademarks, Jared's inability to obtain security clearances, the Trump Organization's foreign entanglements and on and on," she said.
Dan Froomkin, Press Watch, September 29, 2020
[S]ports-style coverage has never been more inappropriate than it is today, because it also fundamentally equates the two candidates. It suggests that they are playing the same game, when they are playing entirely different games. It casts them as competing on an even playing field, when they are nor playing by remotely the same rules.
First and foremost, of course, Trump notoriously doesn't care about facts. Debate rules should require truth-telling, and include methods for the moderators to call out outrageous violations and exact some sort of penalty. But real-time fact-checking has actually been ruled out by the debate organizers (to their shame).
The sport-style coverage also normalizes this highly abnormal election.
The story of this race is not: Biden and Trump are both running for president, you pick. It's: America is on a precipice. As I wrote in my inaugural Press Watch column, 11 months ago – before impeachment! Before the pandemic! – re-electing Trump would be an act of collective national insanity.
It's only truer today. . . .
Even before the debate, Trump was already making outrageous insinuations against Biden — projecting, if past is prologue — and the New York Times simply considered it a sign of the "absence of guardrails."
And don't look to journalistic fact-checking as is currently practiced to solve anything. While I'll eagerly watch what looks to be an aggressive fact-checking initiative from CNN, I don't think fact-checking should be independent of the main coverage.
Bob Cesca, Salon, September 29, 2020
For the past several decades, Donald Trump has been widely regarded as a great big phony. Everything about him is a mirage. He steals credit for the accomplishments of others, especially his predecessor, Barack Obama. His business model is all about slapping his goofy name on properties built by others. Even his outward appearance is a fraud: his unsubstantiated self-confidence, his hair, his clown makeup, his baggy suits designed to hide his doughy frame, even his shoes, which appear to have unusually high heels — it's all intended to make him appear physically more powerful than he actually is. Fake, fake and fake.
It's all a big show. In reality, he's nothing more than a petty, brittle, small man — and a business failure. . . .
Between 2008 and 2009, during the Great Recession, the Trump Organization itself lost $1.4 billion. Trump exploited this loss to claim a $73 million tax refund from the IRS, which subsequently launched an ongoing audit of Trump's taxes. If he ends up getting the fuzzy end of the audit, he could owe the government $100 million. . . .
Despite his garish penthouse and private jet, Trump is broke. His properties are failing and he needs the money. Badly. Turns out, not only is Trump a craptastically bad businessman, but you and everyone you know is paying to help mitigate his investment nightmares nearly every damn weekend. . . .It's worth mentioning that in addition to forcing taxpayers to finance his money-losing properties, Trump paid zero in taxes during 10 of the last 15 years. Remember the debate about "makers vs. takers?" Trump is absolutely a taker. Indeed, based on these numbers, he's taken a million times more than he's paid into the federal government in recent years. Talk about a welfare queen. . . .
We already knew his zealous reopening obsession was about keeping the stock market afloat long enough 1) to keep his portfolio in good standing, and 2) to haul his ponderous bulk into a second term. But reopening too soon could also have been about those crappy golf resorts. . . .More than 205,000 Americans are dead, while 7.1 million have been infected, in part because Trump is desperately worried about the solvency of his vacation properties. In other words, the president of the United States is so freaked out about falling deeper into debt that he may very well be making life-and-death decisions for the entire nation based on the failing financial status of his janky resorts.
Think about that for a second. The president is metaphorically grinding down American bodies and fertilizing his golf courses with the remains. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens are dead so Trump can be re-elected (or so he hopes) while generating blood money for his failing golf courses. On these terms alone, he's the deadliest sociopath ever to occupy the White House.