Warren Buffett stepped away from his usual low-key approach to politics Monday to sharply criticize Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for comments about the family of a Muslim-American soldier, for not making his tax returns public and for what Buffett said were Trump’s failures in business.
The Omaha billionaire has supported Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s political ambitions and those of other Democrats over the years but had rarely criticized their opponents until now.
Trump’s campaign did not return an email seeking comment about Buffett’s remarks.
The “final straw,” Buffett told several thousand people while introducing Clinton at a campaign rally in the gymnasium at North High School, was Trump’s comments about the family of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan.
Khan was killed on duty in Iraq 12 years ago. At the Democratic National Convention last week, Khan’s parents criticized Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims, and Trump’s responses to the family’s criticism included his claim that he had made “sacrifices” during his working career.
Buffett said Trump was wrong to say that working hard, creating jobs and constructing some “great structures” represented sacrifices.
“I have made no sacrifices,” Buffett said. “No member of the Buffett family has gone to Iraq or Afghanistan. No member of the Trump family has gone to Iraq or Afghanistan. Donald Trump and I haven’t sacrificed anything.
“So how in the world could you stand up to a couple of parents who’ve lost a son and talk about sacrificing because you were building a bunch of buildings?”
Buffett said Trump’s comments about the Khans and their “Gold Star son” reminded him of the excesses of the anti-communist campaign waged by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, which prompted Army attorney Joseph Welch to say to McCarthy during a congressional hearing, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
“And I ask Donald Trump, ‘Have you no sense of decency, sir?’ ” Buffett said, adding that McCarthy’s political career “went straight downhill after that.”
Buffett became the third well-known billionaire to criticize Trump in recent days, following former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg during the Democratic Convention and investor Mark Cuban in Pittsburgh over the weekend.
On Monday, Buffett called on Trump to release his tax returns. Trump has said he wouldn’t make them public in part because they are being audited. Buffett said his returns are being audited, too, but that’s no reason for a presidential candidate not to make tax returns public.
He said he would meet with Trump any time and place before the election to make both of their tax returns public and answer questions about the documents.
“You will learn a whole lot more about Donald Trump if he releases his income tax returns,” Buffett said. “You’re only afraid if you’ve got something to be afraid about. And he’s not afraid because of the IRS. He’s afraid because of you.”
The audience cheered and applauded, one of many times they interrupted Buffett’s introduction with cheers.
Buffett mocked Trump’s claims of business success, noting that Trump has declared bankruptcy six times with businesses financed with borrowed money. The only time he sold stock directly to the public was in 1995, when he formed Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Buffett said.
Buffett is chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., an Omaha-based conglomerate whose stock has been publicly traded for about 50 years.
Over 10 years, Buffett said, Trump’s casino company lost money every year and Trump received $44 million in compensation.
“If a monkey had thrown a dart at the stock pages, the monkey, on average, would have made 150 percent” during those 10 years, Buffett said. “The people that believed in (Trump), who listened to his siren song, came away losing well over 90 cents on the dollar. They got back less than a dime.”
Buffett also said that he “violently disagreed” with Trump’s assessment that the United States is in trouble, saying instead that the country’s future is bright and that the same factors that have made the country a success over the past 240 years are still present today.
He quoted Trump as saying, “No one knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
“Well, la-di-da, you know,” Buffett said. “I didn’t really realize we were in such grave danger.”