Donald Trump’s Blunt Defense of Business Record Poses Political Risks

Donald Trump vocalization with reporters after a initial presidential discuss with Hillary Clinton in Hempstead, N.Y., on Sept. 26.
ENLARGE

Donald Trump jumped right in when Hillary Clinton indicted him during Monday’s presidential debate of rooting for a housing marketplace to fall a decade ago so he could distinction off an contingent rebound.

“That’s called business, by a way,” Mr. Trump said.

The howling was one in a array of asides a Republican presidential hopeful offering when his Democratic opposition intended critiques of a business record that Mr. Trump has offering adult as a executive partial of his representation for a White House.


The tactic of bluntly fortifying his business practices presents risks for Mr. Trump, quite among centrist electorate who might not see a severe and decrease of capitalism as a domestic virtue. But it could also refinement a tell-it-like-it-is interest that helped Mr. Trump charge by a Republican primary, generally if electorate consider he will request identical hard-nosed strategy on a public’s interest to inhabitant problems.

“I consider it harm him. If we was his evident adviser, we would tell him not to do that again,” pronounced John Catsimatidis, a billionaire businessman who ran unsuccessfully for New York mayor in 2013 as a Republican and who pronounced he is accessible with both candidates.

Either way, a opening serve cemented Mr. Trump’s standing as an alien who defies a normal domestic instinct, that would be to tip-toe around Mrs. Clinton’s attacks on his personal taxes and business bankruptcies, and allegations of secular taste and unpalatable business dealings.

Mrs. Clinton is “attacking him since he’s a businessman, and that’s his biggest asset,” pronounced John Feehery, a GOP strategist. Mr. Trump indispensable to give a “more full-throated defense” of his business record and explain some-more directly how it would assistance him run a country, he said.


The exchanges also hinted during differences in certification for Monday’s showdown. Political advisers pronounced Mrs. Clinton faced a high sequence before a debate—how to get underneath Mr. Trump’s skin though appearing repulsive or patronizing.

“She baited him, and he took a bait,” pronounced Republican pollster Frank Luntz, adding that this miss of fortify undercut a clever start by Mr. Trump. “He became some-more meddlesome in fortifying his reputation” than in explaining how he would assistance “the electorate he wants to represent.”

By responding to slights opposite his business record, strategists pronounced Mr. Trump squandered chances to figure a discuss by doubt Mrs. Clinton’s proposals, such as increasing taxes on high-income households, a aloft smallest salary and paid leave for workers, ideas opposite by many business owners.

The exchanges expected did small to lean partisans. Trump supporters saw true talk, while Clinton supporters saw defensiveness and greed, pronounced Dan Schnur, a former orator for Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) who now teaches during a University of Southern California. But for uncertain voters, he said, Mr. Trump’s tinge “didn’t help, and he extended contention of a subject that works opposite him.”

By contrast, Mrs. Clinton fast close down a doubt about her argumentative use of a private email server when she was secretary of state by blaming herself. “It was a mistake, and we take shortcoming for that,” she said.

Twice during a debate, Mr. Trump didn’t brawl allegations that he used taxation breaks to equivocate profitable any sovereign taxes. “That creates me smart,” he said. Mr. Trump quipped that any income he paid in taxes was expected to be “squandered,” call a retort from Mrs. Clinton: “If he’s paid zero, that means 0 for troops, 0 for vets, 0 for schools or health.”

Dan DiMicco, late authority and arch executive of steelmaker Nucor Corp.
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, pronounced that Mr. Trump shouldn’t be apologetic for fulfilling his duties underneath a taxation law. “Any businessman is obliged for profitable taxes owed, though no some-more than a taxes owed,” pronounced Mr. DiMicco, a trade process and mercantile confidant to a Trump campaign. “Otherwise, it’s called charity.”

Strategists and Democratic critics pronounced Mr. Trump’s invulnerability on taxes wouldn’t lay good with some uncertain voters. The sell followed a doubt about Mr. Trump’s hostility to make his taxation earnings public, that creates it unfit to know what he has paid.

“He’s ‘smart,’ ” pronounced Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) on Tuesday morning on a Senate floor. “Does that make us reticent since we compensate a taxes?”

In June, a Wall Street Journal examination of justice annals showed a settlement in that Mr. Trump funded payments to vendors, contractors and suppliers to a grade that is surprising even in a construction industry, where remuneration disputes mostly arise.

Pressed Monday by Mrs. Clinton over that habit, including payments to an designer for a Trump golf clubhouse, Mr. Trump cut in, “Maybe he didn’t do a good job.”

Mr. Trump also shielded as a savvy business pierce a preference to use failure insurance to restructure debt for his casino businesses. “On occasion, 4 times, we used certain laws that are there,” he said. “I take advantage of a laws of a republic since I’m using a company.”


To be sure, Mr. Trump’s casino businesses were strike by a extended attention downturn in Atlantic City, N.J. Moreover, many rich Americans sinecure a “best accountants to compensate a slightest volume of taxes that we can and still be legal,” pronounced Mr. Catsimatidis, who hasn’t permitted any candidate. Still, Mr. Trump’s warlike invulnerability of those practices on a nationally televised discuss was “a bad approach,” Mr. Catsimatidis said.

Later in a evening, Mr. Trump responded to attacks from Mrs. Clinton over a Justice Department lawsuit filed in 1973 opposite his father’s rental-apartment business, where Mr. Trump was an employee. In a exchange, Mr. Trump didn’t directly repudiate a claim of secular discrimination. “We staid a fit with zero, with no acknowledgment of guilt,” he said.

From there, Mr. Trump described a construction of his oceanfront bar in Palm Beach, Fla., and settled there is “no taste opposite African-Americans, opposite Muslims, opposite anybody.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican hopeful 4 years ago, mostly danced around his business record as a private-equity financier after Democrats embellished a mural of him as a job-destroying mercenary.

Pressed in a 2012 discuss with President Barack Obama to debunk a biggest misconceptions electorate had toward any candidate, Mr. Romney pronounced subsequent to zero about his private-sector work in ascent a invulnerability of his business record.

“The president’s discuss has attempted to impersonate me as someone who’s really opposite than who we am,” Mr. Romney said. “I’m a man who wants to help—with a knowledge we have—the American people.”

While Mr. Trump has put his business certification during a core of his candidacy, no arch executive during a nation’s 100 largest companies have donated to his discuss by August, a Journal reported final week, compared to 11 who are subsidy Mrs. Clinton. In 2012, scarcely a third of Fortune 100 CEOs upheld Mr. Romney. Mr. Trump’s discuss pronounced he was “not beholden” to large association CEOs “with agendas.”

Write to Nick Timiraos during nick.timiraos@wsj.com and Richard Rubin during richard.rubin@wsj.com

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