Donald Trump said he won in 2016 because he didn't release his taxes. Nope!
Posted May 13, 2019 11:12 a.m. EDT
CNN — On Saturday, President Donald Trump tweeted this:
"I won the 2016 Election partially based on no Tax Returns while I am under audit (which I still am), and the voters didn't care. Now the Radical Left Democrats want to again relitigate this matter. Make it a part of the 2020 Election!"
It's a completely outlandish contention -- more on that in a minute -- that also doubles as the platonic ideal of Trump's fact-twisting: Not only does he have a casual disregard for the truth but he also seems to taunt the truth (and those who adhere to it) but pushing his ridiculous claims to eye-popping extremes.
So it's not enough for Trump to claim that his unwillingness to release any past tax returns -- the first post-Watergate president not to do so -- was a non-factor in the 2016 election. Instead, he has to go to the extreme of saying that not releasing his taxes was, in fact, a reason that people voted for him.
To be clear: There is ZERO evidence for that claim. None.
As I have written before, there was no mention of Trump's tax returns (or lack thereof) in the 2016 exit poll. Which means that making claims that he was helped (or hurt) by his refusal to release the returns is impossible -- or at least impossible to verify.
Trump won the 2016 election -- as the exit polling makes clear -- for one reason: Because he was viewed as a change agent in a year in which people wanted change. Of the 4 in 10 voters who said a candidate who could bring about "needed" change was their most important priority in choosing who to vote for, Trump won 82% of their votes. That was the entire election.
Could you make the case that Trump's refusal to release his tax returns -- ostensibly because they were under audit -- was part of the "needed" change that drew people to him? Yes, in the sense that you can make literally any argument in the world when there isn't a specific data point to either affirm or refute your claim.
But there is a 0% chance that argument was what Trump was trying to do with his tweet. Instead, he was -- as he often does -- just saying stuff. I'll prove it -- with Trump's own words.
The first clause of the tweet makes a simple argument: He was helped to victory by not releasing his tax returns; "I won the 2016 Election partially based on no Tax Returns," he wrote.
The second clause -- "and the voters didn't care" -- directly undermines the argument from the first clause. Was his failure to release his tax returns a reason voters voted for him (first clause) or a non-factor in the 2016 election (second clause)? Because it can't be both.
(Sidebar: The "voters didn't care" theory is one first advanced by Trump senior counselor Kellyanne Conway in the earliest days of the Trump administration. "People didn't care," said Conway in January 2017 of Trump's tax return release refusal. "They voted for him." Last month, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney made the same argument. "Keep in mind that that's an issue that was already litigated during the election," he said. "Voters knew the President could have given his tax returns, they knew that he didn't, and they elected him anyway, which of course is what drives the Democrats crazy.")
The truth here is more simple: Trump contradicts himself because his only point with this tweet was to try to rewrite history in his favor. Not only did people not care about his tax returns (again, impossible to prove right or wrong based on the 2016 exit data) but they actually voted for him because of it!
This is a man for whom simple exaggeration or truth-twisting isn't enough. He wants to go next level with everything -- including this. But making an even more outlandish -- and unprovable -- claim doesn't make it any more true. Which is very much the case in this situation.