Toledo, Ohio: Hillary Clinton seized on revelations that Donald Trump could have avoided paying income taxes for up to 18 years to unleash a new torrent of criticism of her opponent, saying he pretended to help working Americans even as he personified “the same rigged system he claims he will change.”
“He abuses his power, games the system, puts his own interests ahead of the country’s,” Clinton told a crowd of more than 1,100 gathered for a rally Monday at the Downtown Toledo Train Station. “It’s always Trump first, and everyone else last.”
Clinton unleashed the attack during a previously planned economic speech in Ohio, where she has struggled to connect with white working-class voters, who have seen huge job losses amid the decades-long flow of manufacturing plants overseas.
But the revelation Saturday night that Trump declared a $916 million (Dh3.36 billion) loss on his 1995 income tax returns and could have avoided paying federal taxes for years added a new impetus and an extra dose of fire and brimstone to Clinton’s economic pitch.
She wasted little time in tying Trump’s tax practices to her broader economic message of reining in corporate excess and alleviating income inequality.
“Toledo is the kind of place where people work hard, look after one another and, yes, pay their taxes,” Clinton said at the start of her remarks here.
And noting the defence Trump’s allies have put forth — that his handling of his taxes reflects his “genius” — Clinton said, “What kind of a genius loses a billion dollars in a single year?”
She criticised Trump’s reluctance to release his tax returns — as every other major recent presidential candidate has done — and mentioned the article in The New York Times revealing his tax records. “While millions of American families, including mine and yours, were working hard and paying their fair share,” Clinton said, “it seems he was contributing nothing to our nation.”
Several hours later at a campaign rally in Pueblo, Colorado, Trump said that he had used the tax code “brilliantly,” and that his mastery of it meant he was best qualified to overhaul a deeply flawed system.
“I understand the tax laws better than almost anyone, which is why I am the one who can truly fix them,” he said.
Clinton wove her attack on Trump into an address in which she also criticised other corporate actors, including top executives at Wells Fargo after employees opened roughly 1.5 million bank accounts and applied for 565,000 credit cards that may not have been authorised by customers, according to regulators. The bank paid $185 million in fines, including a $100 million penalty from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the largest penalty the agency has ever issued.
Clinton seemed upbeat at the rally, her first since the revelations Saturday about Trump’s taxes. She boasted of being endorsed by LeBron James, who led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA championship and grew up in Akron, Ohio, which Clinton was also visiting Monday. “I hope to be elected president, but I know here in Ohio, LeBron will always be the king,” she said.
Clinton’s speech fit into a broader economic philosophy, endorsed by her closest economic advisers and often referred to as inclusive capitalism, that calls for corporations to put less emphasis on short-term profits and invest more in employees, the environment and communities.
On Monday, Clinton reiterated her proposal to raise the minimum wage, strengthen labour unions and offer tax incentives to companies that share profits with employees. She also unveiled two new policies to protect workers, including curbing the use of “forced arbitration” clauses in contracts that prohibit workers and consumers from bringing legal action against companies that have harmed them.
“We are not going to let corporations like Wells Fargo use these fine-print ‘gotchas’ to escape accountability,” Clinton said.
And she took aim at pharmaceutical companies, against the backdrop of a backlash against Mylan, which repeatedly raised the price of EpiPens, leading to widespread consumer outrage, particularly among parents whose children rely on the life-saving injections after allergic reactions.
“We should slap penalties on companies trying to cheat people who need these drugs,” Clinton said.
The campaign stops in Toledo and Akron marked the first time Clinton had visited Ohio since Labor Day, as polls show the state’s white working-class voters gravitating toward Trump. Fifty per cent of likely voters in Ohio preferred Trump, compared with 46 per cent for Clinton, in a CNN/ORC poll last month.
Early voting begins next week in Ohio, and the Clinton campaign has roughly 300 staff members and an army of volunteers working to register voters. On Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton plans to embark on a two-day bus tour through the state largely focused on kitchen-table economic issues.
Recent polls have shown that Clinton has gained an advantage on Trump when voters are asked who will best handle the economy. Ever since the Democratic nominating fight, Clinton has called out specific corporate players for criticism, trying to demonstrate to voters how she would approach corporate misbehaviour as president.
The same day Clinton fought to present herself as a champion of hard-hit Rust Belt voters, Trump continued his attacks on the Clinton family’s finances. In the years since Bill Clinton left the White House, the Clintons have amassed in excess of $125 million delivering paid speeches to Wall Street and other special interests.
“Hillary Clinton hasn’t made an honest dollar in her entire life,” he said in Pueblo, contrasting his private-sector experience to her profiting off her career of public service by making speeches.
“Hillary Clinton left the White House dead broke,” he said. “Now she and her husband have made more than $200 million without building a company or creating a single thing of value.”
Although the data has shown steady job growth under President Barack Obama, voters in states like Ohio have not felt as if the economy has come back, said Nina Turner, a former state senator from Ohio who supported Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary race.
“They feel like, ‘My quality of life hasn’t gotten much better, and I need somebody to speak to those issues,’” Turner said. “Instead,” she said of the two major-party nominees, “we have two wealthy people battling back and forth.”