Veteran GOP strategist predicts Trump's debate performance will suffer thanks to tax bombshell

Suzanne Smalley

Calling the recent New York Times report showing that President Trump is saddled with debt and paid only $750 in taxes the year he ran for president the political equivalent of an “H-bomb,” veteran GOP political operative Mike Murphy predicted the president’s debate performance on Tuesday will suffer because he will spend “half the debate saying, you know, ‘I’m a billionaire.’”

And in an interview for the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast, Murphy also offered some advice for former Vice President Joe Biden: “Knowing how insecure Trump is, I’d open with a joke: ‘Hey, Donald, before we get started, if you need to borrow a few bucks, I brought a little for you.’”

A jab like that would, said Murphy, drive the president nuts. He said he fully expects Trump to have difficulty staying on message during Tuesday’s debate because he will be desperate to reestablish his bona fides as a billionaire.

“Trump hates, hates, hates to be seen as not a rich guy, and he has no sense of humor, like any good sociopath,” Murphy added. “I would not be surprised tonight if he spends half the debate saying, you know, ‘I’m a billionaire, I own this land that’s worth at least 10 times what I paid for it in Kansas.’”

On the same “Skullduggery” podcast, GOP pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson said Biden should instead focus on the coronavirus pandemic. “I would spend more time on the coronavirus issue, because what people think about Donald Trump’s character has to be baked into the cake at this point,” she said.

Even after the revelations about Trump’s business record, Biden should emphasize the president’s handling of the pandemic because “that will rattle [Trump] more,” Anderson said. “When the stuff hit the fan and Donald Trump was in charge ... Trump’s response is, ‘I closed the borders at the airports in January,’ and that’s kind of it. What has he done since then to help us overcome this virus? He doesn’t have a great answer, and I think Biden should just consistently nail him on that.”

Joe Biden and Donald Trump Presidential Debate (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; Erin Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Joe Biden and President Trump. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; Erin Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Although he has been a top strategist for GOP candidates for decades, Murphy is now consulting for Republican Voters Against Trump, a group of former officials in Republican administrations who are mounting a campaign to defeat Trump and elect Biden. Murphy said the tax story is damaging to Trump not just because of how it affects him psychologically, but also in more concrete terms.

Trump is trailing Biden in election polling, Murphy said, and needs to win most of the voters who are still undecided. That will be harder to do now, he said, because every voter “can play the beer-and-pretzel game,” comparing their own tax bill with Trump’s — and most will have paid more than $750. The tax story also hurts the president by taking up media bandwidth he desperately needs to “get an offense going,” Murphy said.

Trump won’t be able to go on offense anytime soon, Murphy predicted. He also said the media’s focus on how Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s expected confirmation would change the court will be a damaging story for Trump in the coming weeks.

Trump has tapped Barrett to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died of cancer on Sept. 18 and voted repeatedly to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Because Barrett has criticized the legal basis for the ACA in some of her writings, Murphy said it is likely that the weeks leading up to her Oct. 12 confirmation hearings will be overtaken by a relentless media focus on the potential loss of health coverage and protections for millions of Americans.

Murphy predicted Democrats will “go back to [their] best midterm election issue, which is ‘These sons of bitches millionaire Republicans want to rig the Supreme Court to take away your preexisting conditions.’”

“That is a laser sword,” Murphy said. “There are a lot of former Republican congressman from 2018 who can tell you about that one.”


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