PUEBLO, Colo. — Donald Trump on Monday sought to turn an October surprise to his advantage, spinning his recently uncovered tax returns and losses in the 1990s as an American comeback story that could be writ large for the country.
Responding on the trail for the first time to a New York Times report on his leaked 1995 tax returns, Trump made the case for his loss of $916 million as the cost of doing business in a period of economic downturn and painted himself as an all but written off businessman who came back to win against all odds.
Explaining how he wrote off his nearly billion dollar loss and was able to not pay federal income tax off it Trump explained: "I was able to use the tax laws of this country, and my business acumen, to dig out of this real estate depression when few others did. In those most difficult times, when so many had their backs to the wall, I reached within myself and delivered for my company, my employees, my family and the communities where my properties existed."
Never one to undersell his accomplishments, Trump made sure to add that he has "brilliantly used" America's tax laws to his benefit.
The Republican nominee commiserated about the "unfairness of the tax laws" but reasoned that "despite being a beneficiary" of the system, he was the right one to amend it for the same reason.
Trump used his loss of hundreds of millions as evidence of his strength in the face of adversity and his commitment to success when everyone expected failure. He said that in tough times is when he performs his best and he impressed upon the crowd the grit and know-how it took to come back in trying times.
Trump recalled "the media and power that be said, 'Donald Trump could never, ever make it back.' I remember those stories," he said. "I had a billion offered dollars in borrowing, which is true, and hundreds of millions of dollars in personal guarantee, which is true, and no pathway out - which is false."
"I never had any doubts whatsoever," Trump said about this recovery - which he was reluctant to call a comeback because he said he doesn't think of it that way. "I knew in my heart that when the chips are down, is when I perform the very best."
The New York businessman lashed out at the news media as "obsessed with an alleged tax filing from the 1990s." He did not mention that every Republican presidential candidate in the past nine election cycles has released his tax returns, an expected and precedented piece of running for public office.
While describing himself as a success story of wit, honesty, and hard work, Trump continued to label Clinton as corrupt and inside the system. "Hillary Clinton has not made an honest dollar in her entire life," Trump spat into a microphone that popped and cracked several times during his remarks.
He jocularly laid blame on the Commission on Presidential Debates, after Monday night's debate saw issues with Trump's audio. "Let's see what happens on Sunday again," Trump griped. "My biggest opponent was the microphone." Later, after the second mic pop, Trump called the commission a "joke."
As he has done in the past, Trump borrowed a line from his opponent and co-opted it as his own. Trump explained that he knew how to fight the system "because that's what you had to do. I'm a fighter," he said.
"And now I'm going to fight for you." It's a notable turn of phrase, one not used before by Trump, considering Hillary Clinton's branding of herself as a fighter — and the fact that her infamous walk out song is "Fight Song."