As the old saying goes, there are two certainties in life: death and taxes.
In the case of the erstwhile president of the United States, it looks as if the latter might just signal the start of the former.
On Tuesday (22 November) the US Supreme Court issued an unsigned decision without any dissents that the Treasury Department is free to hand over Donald Trump’s tax statements to an eager House Committee that has been asking for them since 2019.
Tax returns often reveal a lot about a politician and how relatable they are to the American public. In 2010 Mitt Romney filed taxes for $21.7m and only paid a 13.9 per cent tax rate because most of his income came from investments, which are taxed at a lower rate than wages. The majority of the Obamas’ $5.5m income in 2009 came from book royalties, of which the couple paid almost $1.8m in taxes.
Trump is the first US president in modern American history to skip the tradition of releasing his tax returns during his presidential campaign. Instead, he issued a flimsy excuse that he was under audit, even though the IRS confirmed nothing prevents individuals from disclosing their tax returns.
As boring as tax returns can be, the Supreme Court’s ruling is not good news for Donald Trump. In 2020 a New York Times investigation revealed the former president paid only $750 a year in taxes in 2016 and 2017. The same investigation concluded he paid no income tax in ten of the 15 years before he became president, mostly because he reported losing more money than he earned.
Trump is already under several investigations which include alleged business fraud, interference in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election, disclosing classified information, inflating the value of his assets to lenders, and inciting insurrection in the attack on the US Capitol in January 2021.
Despite Trump’s long list of alleged crimes, history does show that he tends to get away with bad behaviour. He survived two impeachment attempts; one for allegedly attempting to bribe the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden’s son, and another for inciting a violent mob to try to overturn the results of the last presidential election. The man also believes that his popularity will insulate him from any consequences. At a rally in 2016 he boasted that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose any votes.
But a lot has changed since then. The self-described most popular and most persecuted politician in US history, someone who once bragged literally that he could get away with murder, is now not just under threat of serving jail time, but also – to his greater dismay – of becoming irrelevant.
The midterm results, that should have brought Republicans into Congress in a crashing red wave, produced one of the worst results of any minority party in the last 40 years. Trump-endorsed candidates performed miserably in the midterms, despite Joe Biden’s low approval rating and a floundering economy. A Quinnipiac University poll released on 22 November revealed that 43 per cent of Americans said they’d prefer Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis to win the GOP presidential nomination compared to 29 per cent for Trump. Republicans were evenly split, even though Donald Trump enjoys much greater name recognition.
What Donald Trump is about to learn is that falling out of love doesn’t usually happen all at once. It comes on slowly through a combination of misdeeds and the realisation that there are other, better options out there. In the case of Trump, his tax returns are just one of many things that are making MAGA supporters understand that there are other candidates who can speak his inflammatory language, but do so with a wider vocabulary.