The revelation that Trump may have used arcane provisions in the tax code to avoid paying federal income taxes for some 18 years is precisely the kind of story Clinton needed to pitch the group most resistant to her campaign: the white working class. The reason she is struggling in battleground states like Ohio—a state that Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012 despite its challenging demographic makeup—is because Trump has successfully portrayed himself as an anti-trade populist who will defend the white working class from corrupt elites like Hillary Clinton. The tax story is evidence that when it comes to elite corruption, no one can really outdo Trump, who managed to turn a $1 billion loss into a financial windfall from the IRS.
The Obama campaign was able to depict Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat who divided the world into makers and takers. It turns out that Trump is the ultimate taker, exploiting the very government he hopes to lead. When you combine that with the fact that Clinton’s policy proposals will do far more for the working class—from raising the minimum wage to greater government investment in job creation—then you have a powerful argument that Clinton is the only true champion of working families in this election.
One question is whether Clinton, who is also making a pitch to more affluent whites, can effectively sell this message. Another is whether whites who are attracted to Trump for other reasons will listen.