Donald Trump in Novi, Mich., on on Sept. 30. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Post reports:

Donald Trump declared a loss of $916 million on his income tax returns for 1995, and — because of tax rules that favor wealthy real estate investors — he could have used that loss to avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years, according to a report in the New York Times.

The Times’ report said that the enormous loss Trump reported in 1995 — $916 million — seemed to be a holdover from the early 1990s, when his real estate and casino empire tottered and almost fell.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign seized upon the revelation with gusto. “There it is. This bombshell report reveals the colossal nature of Donald Trump’s past business failures and just how long he may have avoided paying any federal income taxes whatsoever,” said campaign manager Robby Mook in a written statement Saturday night. “In one year, Donald Trump lost nearly a billion dollars. A billion. He stiffed small businesses, laid off workers, and walked away from hardworking communities.” Mook continued: “And how did it work out for him? He apparently got to avoid paying taxes for nearly two decades — while tens of millions of working families paid theirs. He calls that ‘smart.’ Now that the gig is up, why doesn’t he go ahead and release his returns to show us all how ‘smart’ he really is?”

In all of the gaffes, revelations, proven lies and other missteps that have afflicted Trump during this campaign, this is the most foreseeable and the most damaging. The #NeverTrump advocates warned Republicans and the Republican National Committee in the spring and summer that failure to force Trump to reveal his tax returns would set the party and the nominee up for a devastating blow when information eventually came out, which, in an era of hacks and leaks, was virtually inevitable. The RNC’s chairman, Reince Priebus, undertook no effort, nor did the RNC rules committee at the convention, which could have forced Trump to reveal tax returns as every major-party nominee has done since 1976. For months, Trump critics — including the Clinton camp — warned that the returns would show he is worth less than advertised, paid little or no taxes, did not give generously to charity and/or had connections to shady business operations, possibly in Russia.

The revelation puts running mate Mike Pence in the awkward position of having to defend this — along with Trump’s bizarre post-debate attacks against a former Miss Universe — at Tuesday’s VP debate. If he is smart, he will plead ignorance and tell the moderator to go ask Trump.

With the release of tax returns suggesting he suffered a colossal business failure (a loss of $916 million would have been roughly half his net worth at the time) hanging over his head, Trump’s week-long meltdown becomes more understandable. Not only did he decisively lose a debate, he likely knew by then the financial revelations were about to break. One can see why a narcissist such as Trump would stew in panic, anger and anxiety. His carefully crafted image as a successful and generous mogul was being destroyed before his eyes.

Saturday night he appeared to come entirely unglued at a rally at which he lashed out at Clinton. The Post reports:

It took Trump nearly 25 minutes to read the brief statement because he kept going off on one angry tangent after another — ignoring his teleprompters and accusing Clinton of not being “loyal” to her husband, imitating her buckling at a memorial service last month, suggesting that she is “crazy” and saying she should be in prison. He urged his mostly white crowd of supporters to go to polling places in “certain areas” on Election Day to “watch” the voters there. He also repeatedly complained about having a “bum mic” at the first presidential debate and wondered if he should have done another season of “The Apprentice.”

This is a man not in control of events — or of himself.

The reason he potentially paid no taxes — a $916 million loss — undercuts his image as a sophisticated operator. He escaped paying taxes for some period because he failed — miserably and publicly. The tax returns’ release open a series of questions — aside from the extraordinary damage they may due to his campaign just over five weeks from election day:

-Will he be forced to reveal more tax information, or will the failure to do so become the main story of the debate?

-Will he continue his downward emotional spiral, obsessed with tearing down those who have exposed his less-than-stellar business record?

-Does the seemingly legal tax maneuver, which left his tax bill at zero while ordinary people paid for the military, roads, the Postal Service, national parks, etc., undercut his positioning as a friend of the common man?

-Does his tax reduction scheme force new scrutiny — which would once again disproportionately help the wealthy?

-Does the $916 million loss in 1995, which he was entitled to carry forward in subsequent years to avoid paying tax, suggest he is much less wealthy and successful than he boasts? He claims $10 billion in assets (distinct from his income). How did he go from a $2 billion net worth in 1995 with a$916 million loss to an accumulation of wealth ($9 billion more) to reach his advertised $10 billion net worth? Few people other than his cult followers are going to believe his wealth is anywhere near what he claims it to be.

-Puncturing the facade of grandiosity on taxes leads credence to other reports shredding his financial representations. How much did he really give in charity? Was he using charitable donations for business purposes because he was cash-poor?

These and other questions will swirl around the campaign for the foreseeable future. The biggest challenge for Clinton will be staying out of his way as he self-destructs.