Two dozen Donald Trump backers rallied in support of him here Tuesday, offering an enthusiastic if small-scale counterpoint to the Easter weekend protest in West Palm Beach, where several hundred opponents demanded that the president release his tax returns.
Both sides — the anti-Trump protesters and the backers of the president — sought to draw attention to their cause by linking their rallies to the day when Americans must file their own returns. April 15 is the traditional tax day, but it was bumped to April 18 this year because of the weekend and a Washington, D.C., holiday on Monday.
The Palm Beach County Tea Party organized Tuesday’s rally in Palm Beach Gardens, where flag- and sign-waving Trump backers at the corner of PGA Boulevard and Military Trail drew many honks of support and more than a few middle finger salutes and jeers of derision.
Officially, the reason for Tuesday’s rally was to generate support for the president’s tax reform plan, whose details are still unknown.
Supporters of the president took the opportunity to offer up a reminder that, despite the weekend protests and recent polling showing Trump to be at historic lows at this point in a presidency, they still have his back.
“The 87 days that he’s been in office, I think he’s done a terrific job,” said Willy Guardiola of Palm Beach Gardens.
“We’re here to save America from what’s been going on the past number of years, from socialism, from communism,” said Mel Grossman, a Palm Beach Gardens resident who is president of the Palm Beach County Tea Party.
Not long ago, tea party rallies drew hundreds.
In 2009, a Tax Day rally at the Palm Beach County Governmental Center drew a crowd estimated to be between 600 to 1,000 people. A year later at the same site, crowd estimates for the tea party rally approached 1,000.
Back then, Marco Rubio was a potential candidate for office, not a twice-elected U.S. senator. And Barack Obama was the newly-elected president reviled by tea partiers across the country.
Obama is gone from office now, and while the tea party revulsion of him remains in technicolor, it does not appear to be strong enough to generate the mass rallies of yore.
As evidenced by this past weekend’s protests across the nation, that anger and passion is with Trump’s opponents, who view him as a habitually dishonest and unprepared president who might bluster the country into a nuclear war.
Their protests appeared to annoy the president, who tweeted out a suggestion Sunday that the protesters were paid and a reminder that he won the November election.
“I did what was an almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican-easily won the Electoral College!” the president tweeted. “Now Tax Returns are brought up again?”
Democrats in Congress have said the president’s unwillingness to release his tax returns will complicate any efforts to pass a tax reform plan. Without those returns, offered by every president since Richard Nixon, Americans can’t know whether a reform plan would benefit the president personally, Democrats argue.
» PHOTOS: Tax March in West Palm Beach
Tax experts say reforms could benefit the president in any number of ways, though they might not shed light on an issue Democrats have pounded away on — the question of whether Trump owes money to or is paid by Russian interests. That question took on added urgency after U.S. intelligence agencies issued a report concluding that the Russian government interfered with last year’s election to help Trump.
Even with an increasing number of fellow Republicans calling on the president to release his tax returns, there is no indication Trump plans to accede to their wishes. Karen Burke, a tax law professor at the University of Florida, said the returns might not bring any clarity on the Russia issue.
“I doubt the returns would shed light on Russian contacts,” she wrote in an email to The Palm Beach Post.
But there are other areas where they could show how much the president would benefit from changes to the alternative minimum tax, a feature of the tax code designed to make sure upper middle class and wealthy individuals are not successful in completely avoiding taxes.
Trump’s returns, Burke said, “would certainly shed light on what Trump would gain personally from repeal of the AMT,” something Republicans have long supported.
“Depending on the years in question, they would also shed light on how Trump has benefited from the loophole for real estate developers who have cancellation of indebtedness income but are allowed to preserve their net operating losses,” she said.
Martin McMahon, director of the Graduate Tax Program at the University of Florida’s law school, said Trump’s returns could give Americans other bits of information about their president — what his effective tax rate is, how much he gives to charity and whether he has benefited from conservation easements on his golf courses.
Such easements are now controversial, McMahon said, because some argue that their benefits to nature — the reason such easement holders are eligible for assistance through the tax code in the first place — are negligible.
McMahon, who has viewed some of Trump’s financial and tax documents at the request of various media outlets, said the returns aren’t likely to show whether Trump personally owes money to Russian interests, which, in the mind of some opponents, is one explanation for the president’s inexplicable initial embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Trump probably has no direct borrowing as a person,” McMahon said. “Everything that I saw was through partnerships.”
The issue of Trump’s tax returns was of little interest to his supporters in Palm Beach Gardens Tuesday.
“Who cares?” said Madi Page of Greenacres.
The bigger issue, Page said, is media treatment of the president. And, on that score, she had a directive for The Palm Beach Post and other newspapers.
“Start putting some more ‘love Trump’ stuff on the cover of your newspaper,” she said. “Start finding more right instead of finding things wrong. We want to see some more positive stuff.”