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Trump Campaign Proves the System Isn't Rigged

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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The cornerstone of Donald Trump's shaky rhetorical constructs is this: The fix is in. Indeed, in this most inconsistent and unpredictable of political campaigns, Trump consistently promises that everything that matters has been rigged beforehand. 

"I'm afraid the election's going to be rigged. I have to be honest," Trump told supporters in Ohio last week. A North Carolina poll found that seven in ten supporters believed him.

"It's not just the political system that's rigged, it's the whole economy," Trump told a crowd in June. It seems the heir to a construction fortune just can't get a break these days.

Yet if there is a silver lining to this grim assessment, or a cause for optimism about the proper functioning of democratic society and the disciplined restraint of those running the show, the best evidence may be Trump himself. Trump clearly has enormous confidence in the integrity of the system.

For more than a year Trump has dodged the responsibility of every credible presidential candidate to release his taxes. He has claimed that an Internal Revenue Service audit prevents him from making such a disclosure, which every presidential nominee since 1976 has done.

This is more nonsense, of course. As tax lawyer Scott Michel told Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker: “If he were to disclose the returns publicly, he’s not disclosing anything that the IRS doesn’t already know about. A disclosure in and of itself cannot possibly prejudice or hurt him with his audit.”

So why haven't we seen Trump's taxes? I don't mean why hasn't Trump released them. Obviously, his taxes contain information that would embarrass him, including but not limited to the near-certainty that his net worth is nowhere near what he claims.

But why hasn't the IRS leaked his tax documents? If members of Barack Obama's administration wanted to damage Trump's candidacy -- and they do, they really, really do -- why haven't they seeded the news media with juicy nuggets like his tax rate? His paucity of charitable donations? Perhaps his tax returns would even shed light on Trump's strange affection for Russia.

The IRS has been weaponized before. In 1971, President Richard Nixon told John Ehrlichman to turn the IRS loose on Democratic rivals, including Senator Edward M. Kennedy. "There's a lot of gold in them thar hills," Nixon said.

Yet the IRS under Obama has thus far leaked nothing on Trump. The ultimate irony, of course, is that Trump is counting on the agency being administered legally and fairly to protect his secrets -- even as he complains that everything is corrupt.

Similarly, the Obama administration has access to valuable information about Melania Trump's immigration record. The Trumps insist that Mrs. Trump's history of visas and green card application is above reproach.

"They said my wife, Melania, might have come in illegally. Can you believe that one?" Trump said this week. "Let me tell you one thing. She has got it so documented, so she's going to have a little news conference over the next couple of weeks."

Perhaps Mrs. Trump will indeed hold a news conference and she and her husband will put to rest questions about her immigration history. But the visa system and immigration process are notoriously messy, encouraging corner cutting. And Donald Trump is notoriously unreliable. So it won't be surprising if the news conference, should it take place at all, is inconclusive.

In which case Trump will try to skate through without disclosure, banking once again on the integrity of the system, and on the Obama administration being precisely the opposite of what he so vigorously claims it to be. What a racket. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Christopher Flavelle at cflavelle@bloomberg.net