Trump’s tax revelation could tarnish image that fuelled his rise

The bombshell revelation that US President Donald Trump paid just 750 dollars (£578) in federal income tax the year he ran for office threatens to undercut a pillar of his appeal among blue-collar voters.

It could also provide a new opening for his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, on the eve of the first presidential debate.

Mr Trump has worked for decades to build an image of himself as a hugely successful businessman, even choosing "mogul" as his Secret Service code name.

But The New York Times on Sunday revealed that he paid just 750 dollars in federal income taxes in 2016, the year he won the presidency, and in 2017, his first year in office.

He paid no income taxes whatsoever in 10 of the previous 15 years, largely because he reported losing more money than he made, according to the Times, which obtained years worth of tax return data that the president had long fought to keep private.

The development comes at a particularly precarious moment for Mr Trump, whose Republican campaign is struggling to overcome criticism of the president's handling of the pandemic.

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TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump arrives at McCarran International Airport September 12, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
People watch US President Donald Trump leave after a campaign rally at the Minden-Tahoe airport in Minden (50miles/80km south of Reno), Nevada on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump looks at the crowd during a campaign rally at the Minden-Tahoe airport in Minden (50miles/80km south of Reno), Nevada on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Minden-Tahoe airport in Minden (50miles/80km south of Reno), Nevada on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Supporters wait for US President Donald Trump ahead of a campaign rally at the Minden-Tahoe airport in Minden (50miles/80km south of Reno), Nevada on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at the Minden-Tahoe airport in Minden (50miles/80km south of Reno), Nevada on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
LAKE MEAD NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 12: People look on at Boulder Beach as boaters participate in a boat parade on Lake Mead in support of U.S. President Donald Trump on September 12, 2020 in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada. Trump is scheduled to hold two campaign events in Nevada on Sunday. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAKE MEAD NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 12: Mike Houlihan (L) and Fight for Nevada President Rudy Clai, both of Nevada, react at Boulder Beach as they watch boaters participate in a boat parade on Lake Mead in support of U.S. President Donald Trump on September 12, 2020 in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada. Trump is scheduled to hold two campaign events in Nevada on Sunday. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAKE MEAD NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 12: Boaters launch from Las Vegas Boat Harbor marina to participate in a boat parade on Lake Mead in support of U.S. President Donald Trump on September 12, 2020 in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada. Trump is scheduled to hold two campaign events in Nevada on Sunday. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks to members of the press after arriving at Reno-Tahoe International Airport September 12, 2020, in Reno, Nevada. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump arrives to board Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on September 12, 2020. - Trump travels to Nevada and Arizona for campaign events. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on September 12, 2020. - Trump will hold a campaign rally in Minden, Nevada. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump arrives in a motorcade before boarding Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on September 12, 2020. - Trump travels to Nevada and Arizona for campaign events. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters rally against a mask mandate, many showing support for US President Donald Trump, in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 22, 2020. - "On day one" of his own presidency, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said, he would implement a national COVID-19 plan and mandate mask wearing. (Photo by Bridget BENNETT / AFP) (Photo by BRIDGET BENNETT/AFP via Getty Images)
Marchers make their way down the street toward the State Capital, where a three-hour rally in support of Donald Trump and conservative values was held. September 12, 2020. A group of around 200 Trump supporters--many of them armed--marched to the Minnesota State Capital in St. Paul, MN, where they held a three-hour rally. Speakers condemned Democratic politicians and the Black Lives Matter movement, criticized Governor Tim Walz's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, denied the existence of racism, and advocated for Donald Trump to be re-elected. As marchers made their way to the capital, a group of counter protesters confronted attendees. State Patrol officers split the groups up once they reached the capital grounds, and one counter protester was eventually arrested. September 12, 2020. (Photo by Tim Evans/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Protesters rally against a mask mandate, many showing support for US President Donald Trump, in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 22, 2020. - "On day one" of his own presidency, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said, he would implement a national COVID-19 plan and mandate mask wearing. (Photo by Bridget BENNETT / AFP) (Photo by BRIDGET BENNETT/AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters rally against a mask mandate, many showing support for US President Donald Trump, in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 22, 2020. - "On day one" of his own presidency, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said, he would implement a national COVID-19 plan and mandate mask wearing. (Photo by Bridget BENNETT / AFP) (Photo by BRIDGET BENNETT/AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters rally against a mask mandate, many showing support for US President Donald Trump, in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 22, 2020. - "On day one" of his own presidency, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said, he would implement a national COVID-19 plan and mandate mask wearing. (Photo by Bridget BENNETT / AFP) (Photo by BRIDGET BENNETT/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Minden-Tahoe airport in Minden (50miles/80km south of Reno), Nevada on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Supporters listen to US President Donald Trump speak during a campaign rally at the Minden-Tahoe airport in Minden (50miles/80km south of Reno), Nevada on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
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It hands Mr Biden an easy attack line heading into Tuesday's debate. And with early voting already happening in some states and election day just over a month away, Mr Trump may be running out of time to turn his campaign around.

Mr Trump has repeatedly faced, and survived, devastating turns that would have sunk any other politician.

That includes, most notably, the "Access Hollywood" tape released in October 2016, in which Mr Trump was recorded bragging about kissing and groping women without their permission.

The video's release came just two days before Mr Trump was set to face then-candidate Hillary Clinton in their second debate and was considered a death knell to his campaign at the time.

At this point in the race, with voting already under way in many states and so few voters still undecided, it is unclear whether any new discoveries about Mr Trump would make any difference.

His support over the years has remained remarkably consistent, polls over the course of his presidency have found.

Yet the tax allegations go to the very heart of Mr Trump's appeal, especially among the blue-collar voters in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan who propelled him to the presidency in 2016.

Donald Trump

Mr Trump was supported by about two-thirds of white voters without college degrees, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Centre, versus only about two in 10 non-white noncollege graduates.

Indeed, in a Gallup poll from February 2016, Republicans who wanted to see Mr Trump win their party's nomination cited his experience as a businessman as the second-most important reason they backed him, surpassed only by his status as a non-politician and an outsider.

Even today, when asked to explain their support for Mr Trump, voters often point to his success in business as evidence of his acumen.

And they often repeat his talking point that he gave up a great deal to serve as president, citing his sacrifice as evidence that he ran for the job not out of self-interest, but because he cares about improving the lives of people like them.

Roughly half of Americans pay no federal income taxes, but the average income tax paid in 2017 was nearly 12,200, dollars (£9,500) according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Democrats wasted no time in seizing on the news, with the Biden campaign's online store already selling stickers saying "I paid more income taxes than Donald Trump" on Sunday night.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tweeted an emoji calling on followers to raise their hands "if you paid more in federal income tax than President Trump".

"That's why he hid his tax returns. Because the whole time, he wasn't paying taxes. But you were," added senator Chris Murphy.

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