It is clear that Donald Trump is anxious to not follow the tradition now extending back many decades of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns. The practice began in 1963 with candidate George Romney (father of Mitt) who released 12 years of returns. Since then, almost all presidential candidates and every eventual Democratic and Republican nominee has done so.
I have not quite understood the point of this practice. What are we supposed to learn about the candidates that would help us evaluate them better? We usually have a rough idea of how wealthy they are, if that is an important factor. What reporters have focused on is the effective rate of taxes paid and the percentage of income given to charities but it is not clear how important this information is. But the tradition of releasing has now been set. If Trump had said from the beginning that he did not see the point of releasing tax returns and objected on principle because it was a violation of his privacy, that would have been defensible.
But that is not what he did. Trump has declared that he will not release them because they are being audited. That this is a bogus excuse is clear because IRS rules do not prevent anyone from releasing their returns at any time and besides which he could release those for years before 2009 that are not being audited. Billionaire Warren Buffett has called his bluff and is trying to goad Trump to release them. Buffett says that although his own returns are also being audited, he has challenged Trump to a ‘tax off’, where they both release their tax returns and allow the public to ask questions about them.
So why not release them? Trump loves to boast about how wealthy he is and takes umbrage if anyone suggests that he is inflating his net worth and income. I think that if the returns showed that he was indeed as wealthy as he claims he is, he would have released the returns and bragged about it. His reluctance to do so suggests to me that he is embarrassed by what they say about him.
Seth Meyers has his own theory as to why Trump won’t release his returns.