What Trump is Trying to Hide with His Crazy Russia Comments

“It’s just a total deflection, this whole thing with Russia.”

Donald Trump was criticizing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a press conference this morning, but inadvertently summarized his own media strategy for the day.

In some of his most controversial comments since the closing of the Republican National Convention last week, Donald Trump essentially encouraged Russian hackers to locate Hillary Clinton’s emails and make them public.

Trump’s comments are at best unpatriotic; however, in this particular case, critics argue that his behavior — namely, calling on a foreign government to conduct espionage, to hack American servers and disclose the information therein — amounts to treason. Comparisons to Watergate abounded.

Reaction to the comments on social media was swift — #TreasonousTrump, #Russia, and #treason were all trending within hours of the incendiary comments. The Clinton campaign quickly issued a statement condemning the comments. Other major Republicans — vice presidential nominee Mike Pence among them — quickly distanced themselves from their candidate’s suggestion.

All of the above — the media coverage, the Twitter outrage, the Democratic condemnation and the oh-he-didn’t-really-mean-it posturing of the GOP — have become hallmarks of the Donald Trump media cycle.

He says something outrageous, social media erupts, both parties close ranks, and eventually the storm subsides, with the offensive comments filed away by the DNC for future use in attack ads. Trump himself is well aware of the machinations of this cycle.

Trump speaks in Laconia, NH in July 2015. Source: Michael Vadon/Wikimedia Commons.

It is only logical, therefore, that at some point he would seek to use the media outrage he can so easily manufacture in order to distract from an issue he’d rather avoid. Indeed, Trump has kept a large number of potentially inflammatory stories from gaining airtime and scrutiny in mainstream media: a rape allegation from a woman who was thirteen at the time of the alleged assault; his history of housing discrimination against blacks in various Trump properties; and even the potentially enormous consequences of his unprecedented political and military inexperience.

Donald Trump’s outlandish comments — today’s and many others — are, therefore, instruments of distraction. The steady stream of vitriol he emotes at press conferences (and on Twitter) enables him to control the narrative as he pleases while maintaining his reputation for a willingness to say the politically incorrect.

So what is Trump trying to distract us from today? Ask his campaign manager.

In an appearance on CBS This Morning earlier today, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort definitively stated that Trump will not be releasing his tax returns before the election.

This statements comes after months of pressure from Democrats and Republicans for Trump to release his tax returns, which have to this point been deflected by the candidate, who has argued that he cannot release his tax returns because he is under audit. (As the IRS has told the Huffington Post, that argument is inaccurate and invalid.)

Stranger still are the comments Trump made about his tax returns during his own press conference this morning, during which he promised to release them to the public once his audit is completed, in direct opposition to the statement Manafort made to CBS.

Three guesses who owns this building. Source: Pixabay.

The Trump campaign has spent the day making simultaneous, contradictory statements regarding the candidate’s tax returns, but the Clinton campaign has not released an official statement regarding the discrepancy. The New York Times’ website features the ridiculous, dangerous Russian espionage comments but has nothing about his taxes. #TrumpTaxReturns is not trending on Twitter.

Trump has — once again — managed to deflect attention away from an issue he’d prefer to ignore.

If the contents of his tax returns were benign, one would think Trump would be happy to release them now. The mere fact of their banality would be widely covered after such intense speculation, and it would perhaps distract from the Democratic National Convention, where the president himself is planning to speak tonight. The tax return release would mean one fewer thing the Clinton campaign could hit him on.

Unless, of course, he really does have something to hide.

In recent days, speculation has turned to his potential ties and business interests with Russia, whose government has been accused of being behind the DNC emails leak in order to negatively affect Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency. Business mogul Mark Cuban has suggested that Trump has inflated his own wealth and may not make nearly as much money as he has previously indicated, a revelation which would come as a significant blow to Trump’s personal brand.

Others have speculated that Trump pays no taxes, or donates little or nothing to charity.

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said in a May Facebook post that refusal to release tax returns is “disqualifying.” Governor Romney released his own tax returns during his presidential run in 2012.

Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns — and his reliance on a disproven excuse — ought to seriously concern American voters. His ongoing rape allegation and history of anti-black discrimination ought to horrify voters. And yet his off-the-cuff, if potentially dangerous, remarks continue to win the day.

His comments about Russian espionage were wrong, but as with any presidential candidate, what he’s said should concern us less than what he’s done — especially when that’s precisely what he’s trying to hide.