Which side is Donald Trump on?
Trump once endorsed a massive surtax on the rich. But he now wants the top income tax rate cut in half.
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He opposed the war in Iraq, but says he now has a “foolproof” plan to defeat ISIL.
He’s praised single-payer health care, yet loathes Obamacare. But a decade ago he proposed “health marts” that sound suspiciously like today’s Obamacare exchanges.
Over the past two decades he was a Republican, then an independent, then a Democrat, then a Republican. Now, registered as an independent, he leads the Republican 2016 presidential field.
But what does Donald Trump really believe on policy? It’s hard to tell — his campaign will identify no policy director, he has no “issues” tab on his campaign website and he hasn’t given any substantive policy speeches on the campaign trail.
“His hair has been more permanent than his political positions,” said Thomas P. Miller, a health care policy expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “It’s a total random assortment of whatever plays publicly.”
Voters are drawn to Trump more for his I’ll-say-anything style than for his policy views. But a close inspection of Trump’s two published policy tomes, “The America We Deserve” (2000) and “Time To Get Tough” (2011), along with Trump’s public statements in interviews, on Twitter and in public appearances, indicate that Trump’s policy preferences are eclectic, improvisational and often contradictory.
Some of his policy stances are flatout disqualifying to the Republican establishment, but that doesn’t seem to matter. The inconsistencies may even be an asset in assembling a coalition.
To a large extent Trump’s policy contradictions reflect his rapidly shifting political alliances over the past 15 years.
In 1999, Trump quit the Republican Party, saying “I just believe the Republicans are just too crazy right.” Trump was then conferring with political consultant Roger Stone about a possible presidential run as a candidate of the Reform Party, the political organization founded by his fellow billionaire Ross Perot.
In 2001, Trump quit the Reform Party to register as a Democrat. “It just seems that the economy does better under Democrats,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in 2004. The Clintons attended Trump’s Palm Beach wedding to former model Melania Knaus in 2005. The following year Trump gave $26,000 to the House and Senate campaign committees.
By the late aughts, though, Trump’s political giving had started shifting back to the GOP, and in 2009 Trump registered again as a Republican. Two years later he registered as an independent while contemplating a third-party bid.
It was during Trump’s leftward drift in 1999 that he first proposed a wealth tax — a one-time 14.25 percent levy on fortunes more than $10 million that inequality guru Thomas Piketty might salivate over. “The concept of a one-time tax on the super-wealthy is something he feels strongly about,” Stone told the Los Angeles Times.
Trump said the tax should be used to pay off the national debt and help bolster the Social Security fund. He criticized presidential candidate Steve Forbes for favoring a flat tax, which Trump thought unfair to the poor. “Only the wealthy would reap a windfall,” Trump wrote in his 2000 book.
Trump never disavowed the wealth tax, and his campaign won’t say whether he still favors it. But the soak-the-rich tax went unmentioned in his 2011 book. Indeed, even as Trump excoriated President Barack Obama for “adding more to the national debt in three years than almost all the other United States presidents combined.” Trump offered no specific proposals to address it.
Trump overcame his moral objections to the flat tax. On April 15, he told Fox News that he’d like to replace the income tax with “either a fair tax” (i.e., a national sales tax), “a flat tax or certainly a simplified code.” He also proposes repealing the corporate income tax because, he wrote in his 2011 book, it would “create an unprecedented jobs boom.”
“He’s nothing if not inconsistent,” said Bruce Bartlett, a onetime tax aide to the late Rep. Jack Kemp (R.-N.Y.) who excoriated Trump’s wealth tax 16 years ago in the Wall Street Journal. “He’s been on every side of every issue from every point of view as far as I can tell.”
In the 2011 book, Trump outlined a radically simplified income tax reducing the current seven tax brackets to four, with a top marginal rate of 15 percent for incomes above $1 million. (The top rate now is 39.6 percent, which kicks in at less than half a million.) Last month, the liberal nonprofit Citizens for Tax Justice said this “would provide the wealthy with huge tax cuts.” Taken in their entirety, CTJ concluded, Trump’s more recent tax proposals would “create a multi-trillion dollar hole in the federal budget that Trump has not outlined any substantial plan to fill.”
In Trump’s 2000 book he wrote, “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.” But earlier this month Trump told the Web site Ammoland, “Gun-banners are unfortunately preoccupied with … magazine capacity, grips and other aesthetics, precisely because of its popularity. To the left every weapon is an assault weapon.” Trump also said: “I do not support expanding background checks. The current background checks do not work.”
Trump’s 2011 book also condemned the “rapid expansion of food stamps” under Obama and endorses mandatory drug tests for welfare recipients.
The most dramatic disconnect between turn-of-the-century Trump and Trump 2016 concerns health care. In the 2000 volume, Trump pronounced himself “a liberal” when it comes to health care because it is “unacceptable … that the number of uninsured Americans has risen to forty-two million.” The solution? “While we work out details of a new single-payer plan,” Trump wrote, the country ought to consider a variety of ways to make the current system “work more efficiently.” Among these was “the idea of [tax-subsidized] health marts” that “would create a group of approved plans for employees or independents to select from,” i.e., Obamacare without the individual mandate.
But in the 2011 volume, Trump complained that Obamacare was a scheme by liberals “to drag America closer to a so-called ‘single-payer system,’ otherwise known as total government-run health care.” Trump expressed doubt that the number of uninsured (by then 46 million) was accurate, and questioned whether any effort should be made to cover them. He wrote that 20 percent aren’t even U.S. citizens (Undocumented workers, he failed to note, are Obamacare-ineligible.); 30 percent “have plenty of money to buy health care” because they earn more than $75,000; and 28 percent are young people who may “need a safety net” but don’t justify jeopardizing what he’s come to regard as “the world’s greatest health-care system.”
“This is a longstanding conservative claim, that the uninsured [rate] is inflated,” said Edwin Park, vice president for health policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “There’s no disputing that there were tens of millions of uninsured.”
In some ways, Trump has always been eclectic in his views. As Perot-ista, Democrat and Republican/independent he’s been a rhetorical hawk — though one consistently reluctant to endorse military intervention. He worries about “China’s aggressive military buildup” but expresses puzzlement that nearly 30,000 U.S. troops should remain in South Korea. Every American family that loses a family member in Iraq, Trump believes, should receive $5 million from the U.S. government, and Iraq veterans should receive $2 million. But “if any country in the Middle East won’t sell us their oil at fair market price — oil that we discovered, we pumped and we made profitable for the countries of the Middle East in the first place — we have every right to take it.”
Trump has been consistent over time both in his opposition to the inheritance tax — he’s been calling for its repeal for a decade and a half — and in his support for private-sector unions. “Unions still have a place in American society,” he wrote in 2000. “In fact, with the globalization craze in full heat, unions are about the only political force reminding us to remember the American working family.” Trump singled out Teamsters President Jim Hoffa for particular praise: “His knees don’t jerk, and if anyone knows how to bring the Teamsters back to their rightful place at the table, Jim is that man.”
Trump’s uncharacteristic moderation about non-public labor unions reflects his occupational need, as a real estate developer operating in the Northeast, to get along with them. Bob McDevitt, president of UNITE HERE! Local 54 in Atlantic City, said “there has never been any kind of evidence of any kind of union animus with any of the entities he operated” there.
Given an opportunity earlier this month to revise his view of unions, Trump did not. “I have great relationships with unions,” he told Newsweek’s Matthew Cooper. Trump is himself a union member, collecting a $110,228 annual pension from the Screen Actors Guild, according to his financial disclosure. Cooper has written that the influx of white working-class voters into the GOP since 2000 makes Trump’s eclecticism not a weakness, but a strength, because Trump aligns with their opposition to trade deals and cutting Social Security and Medicare.
In May, Trump appeared in an Americans for Limited Government radio ad in which he called fast-track and the Trans Pacific Partnership “a bad, bad deal for American businesses, for workers, for taxpayers” and “a huge set of hand-outs for a few insiders that don’t even care about our great, great America.” In his announcement speech, Trump proposed a 35 percent tax on “every car and every truck and every part” manufactured by American automakers in Mexico that crosses into the U.S. Trump also favors a 20 percent tariff on all imported goods and a 15 percent tax “for outsourcing jobs.”
But even in 2000, Trump had a low regard for teacher’s unions, who he wrote “blow smoke about professional this and academic that” and stifle competition by resisting school choice options. Trump would also appear to share fellow GOP candidate Scott Walker’s disdain for public employee unions in general, having donated $15,000 during Walker’s 2012 recall fight to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which opposed it. “I believed what he was doing was the right thing,” Trump said.
Trump parts with liberals in opposing an increase in the minimum wage, and, of course, in his fierce opposition to any path to citizenship for undocumented workers. He also calls climate change a “total hoax.” But while he favors spending cuts he opposes altering the two largest entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare.
“If you think you’re going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way,” Trump said at the 2013 Conservative Political Action conference, “and at the same time you think you’re going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen.”
Source: Will the real Donald Trump please stand up? – Timothy Noah – POLITICO