You can understand why some of Donald Trump's supporters might not see his withholding of tax returns as a big deal. They're supposed to be confidential - at least, not to be released by government officials - right? What difference does it make? Would they just be fodder for gotcha questions?
The point of releasing tax returns deserves an answer. In the end, the answer is enough to disqualify Trump from a vote for presidential - all by itself.
The answer isn't simply that it has become common practice; that in itself doesn't make it important. What does are the reasons it became common practice. And it has been common practice for a long time. Ronald Reagan in 1980, and every Republican nominee since, has released his returns - except for Trump. (Before him, Gerald Ford released summaries.) Democrats have done likewise.
This year, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have released their returns, as have Republicans Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina and John Kasich.
But not Trump. His one excuse, that he is under audit by the Internal Revenue Service, holds no water: The IRS has confirmed that being under audit is not bar to a voluntary release (by the taxpayer) of a return.
But what might a return tell us that we don't already know?
Quite a bit, actually. It would demonstrate what Trump's effective tax rate is: How much he's paying. What sort of deductions he takes. Because he doubtless has submitted long forms with attachments, we likely could learn who he is in business with. Russians? Unsavory characters? Where does he owe money, and who owes him?
The Russian connection, whatever it may be, might be the most significant of these. Pundit George Will said on July 26 "it’s the sort of thing we might learn if we saw the candidates’ tax returns. Perhaps one more reason why we’re not seeing his tax returns because he is deeply involved in dealing with Russia oligarchs and others. Whether that’s good, bad or indifferent, it’s probably the reasonable surmise."
Trump has made his very richness a centerpiece of his campaign, and many of his supporters have cited it as a reason for support, saying it means he can't be bought. So, just how rich is he? Trump has thrown around figures like $10 billion, but a tax return is different from loose talk because lies there translate to felonies. And Trump must know his returns would be scoured for any discrepancies with what other people know to be true. Released tax returns would likely show us just how honest Trump has been. It would give us an effective way of assessing him better than just about anything else.
"It is disqualifying for a modern-day presidential nominee to refuse to release tax returns to the voters," former candidate Mitt Romney wrote in a post on Facebook. No argument here.
Until such time as he does release them, the question has to persist: What's he hiding? - rs