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How, If At All, Will Trump's Tax Records Sway The Race?


We're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson who's going to help us figure out what all this means for the campaign and look ahead to the vice presidential debate coming up this week. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Some pretty big revelations - we just heard about Trump's tax record from 1995. How do you think he's going to play all this?

LIASSON: That's a good question. He, as you just heard, he issued a statement saying that this is - he was legally required to - he paid no more tax than he was legally required to pay. But as Donald Trump might say, this is an example of a rigged system. It was legal. He has said many times that he took advantage of the laws of the country. And that interesting statement about how he knows the tax system better than anyone and only he can fix it, I think now you're going to get a lot of questions to Donald Trump about whether he plans to get rid of the loopholes that benefit wealthy investors that allowed him to do this. Is that in his tax plan or not? You already heard from the Clinton campaign. They issued statements saying this shows he's a lousy businessman. They say he lost almost a billion dollars, stiffed small businesses, laid off workers and then paid no taxes. So you're going to hear this again and again certainly in the upcoming debates.

MARTIN: This is capping off what was a pretty tough week for Donald Trump coming off that first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton. What do you know? What can you discern about how his camp is trying to shift its focus, if they are?

LIASSON: They have laid out a number of lines of attack. He's given some speeches that are really full-throated, populous speeches, talking about a corrupt system, elites, Hillary and her Wall Street donors. He even imitated her stumbling, almost collapsing at the 9/11 ceremony. He has said she's crazy. She should be in prison. He's suggested she wasn't faithful to Bill Clinton in addition to bringing up some of Bill Clinton's infidelities in the past and saying she was somehow complicit in that. So he's got...

MARTIN: It's getting more personal.

LIASSON: ...A lot - getting more personal. He's got a lot of lines of attacks out there. We'll see what he brings up in the next debates.

MARTIN: Let's look forward to the vice presidential debate. This is happening Tuesday. Mike Pence, Tim Kaine will go head to head. We haven't heard a whole lot from either of them so far. Do you think they're just going to echo what their running mates have been saying?

LIASSON: Well, they usually do. The interesting thing about this debate is these two men, Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, are stylistically so different from the top of the ticket, and they've gotten very, very little attention. Pence, in particular, is as calm and cool and collected as Donald Trump is bombastic. And usually in vice presidential debates, those candidates are stand-ins for the principles. They're not there to debate their own positions or records. But they are going to be asked - Mike Pence, at least, will be asked about everything that Donald Trump has ever said and done; same with Tim Kaine. And the other thing that's interesting this year is usually vice presidential candidates are the attack dogs. They are the ones who are willing to say things in maybe a harsher tone than the principles are willing to do. This year, that is not happening.

MARTIN: But because these two men aren't the attack dogs, does that mean that we could perhaps get a more substantive picture about what a Trump or Clinton presidency would look like?

LIASSON: Yes, I think we might. But there is another wrinkle to that, which is that Trump himself has said that no one speaks for him but himself. And that means that if Mike Pence tries to sand down some of the rough edges of Trumpism, it's going to be a problem. For instance, in - with global warming, Mike Pence has said that he believes human activity does cause global warming. Well, Kellyanne Conway has said that global warming is real but not man-made but the bottom...

MARTIN: That's the Trump campaign spokeswoman, yeah.

LIASSON: That's the Trump campaign manager. But Donald Trump himself has said two things - one, global warming is a Chinese hoax and that he never said that global warming was a Chinese hoax. So I think there'll be certainly an attempt to get the vice presidential candidates to clarify what the top of the ticket means and wants to do.

MARTIN: Which means we might get more people than usual watching the old vice presidential debate. NPR's Mara Liasson will be watching for all of us. Thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

MARTIN: On Tuesday, NPR will be hosting live coverage of the vice presidential debate on many NPR stations, along with live fact-checking at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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