May 10, 2016

A Candidate Divided Against Himself…

If Trump wins in November, which Trump will assume the Oval Office?

If Donald Trump wins in November, which Donald Trump will assume the Oval Office? By that question, we mean to point out how often the presumptive Republican nominee disagrees with himself on the issues.

To be sure, stubbornly sticking with bad policy doesn’t make it good policy (e.g., Barack Obama’s entire presidency), so the “flexibility” that Trump boasts of can be useful, especially when negotiating “great deals.”

But this is getting ridiculous. “As for the idea of unifying behind the Trump agenda,” Jim Geraghty muses, “that’s harder than it sounds because he keeps changing his positions. He’s already reversed positions on tax increases, the minimum wage, self-financing, and paying down the debt, and suggested the United States might tell its creditors it needs to renegotiate what it will pay back, despite contractual obligations.” And that’s just since he became the presumptive nominee last week.

During the primary, Trump made a big deal out of not raising money from other people (especially special-interest groups) in favor of paying his own way. That attracted people to his banner because he “couldn’t be bought,” while his opponents were “puppets.” Of course, he did more fundraising than he let on, but the image mattered.

Facing Hillary Clinton’s billion-dollar juggernaut, however, has necessitated Trump changing course. He is seeking to tap into the Republican National Committee’s fundraising structure in an effort to fund what he says may be a $1.5 billion campaign. Then again, if Trump is worth as much as he says he is, continuing to self-fund shouldn’t be a problem. Easy for us to say, we suppose. Worse, Trump hired longtime Clinton donor and George Soros investment professional Steven Mnuchin to be his finance chairman. Trump has also given loads of cash to Democrats, so this was not a surprise.

On our national debt, Trump last week suggested a solution: “With the United States government there are times on occasion you can buy back debt at a discount, meaning the interest rate goes up and you buy back debt at a discount.” Yet doing so would require taking on new debt to pay off the old, and at higher interest to boot. Why this is a good idea is a mystery.

Except it’s quite simple, he said this week: “This is the United States government. The bonds are absolutely sacred. … People said I want to go and buy debt and default on debt, and I mean, these people are crazy. This is the United States government. First of all, you never have to default because you print the money, I hate to tell you, OK?”

So why not just print $19 trillion and pay off our debt now?

On taxes, Trump issued a plan last year that called for lowering rates, but now he’s backtracking. Soundbites from this week: “By the time it gets negotiated, it’s going to be a different plan. … In my plan [rates are] going down, but by the time it’s negotiated, they’ll go up. Look, when I’m negotiating with the Democrats, I’m putting in a plan. I’m putting in my optimum plan. It’s going to be negotiated. … It’s not going to stay there. They’re not going to say, ‘There’s your plan, let’s approve it.’ They’re going to say, ‘Let’s see what we can do.’ … I always believe in flexibility and remaining flexible. … My core beliefs are I want a major tax cut. … I am willing to pay more, and you know what, the wealthy are willing to pay more. We’ve had a very good run.”

Charles C.W. Cooke for one is exasperated: “The merits and demerits of Trump’s plan to one side, a question comes to mind: What the hell sort of negotiating tactic is this? Essentially, Trump was telegraphing not only that he expects to give ground, but that he expects to get the exact opposite of what he has asked for. It’s one thing for a neutral observer to predict that there will have to be some give and take in a negotiation between two parties; indeed, in the American system such predictions are invariably smart. But it is quite another for one of those parties to lead off by conceding that he’s going to lose. Trump conceded that he’s going to lose.”

James Pethokoukis asserts, “He really does seem to be saying different things on different days to different people. You can try to score, but you’re only scoring one version of his reality. And the reality changes on a daily, if not hourly, basis.”

And a question: Currently the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans. Why does Trump say he’ll be negotiating with Democrats, unless he assumes, as we all have, that his candidacy will turn Congress over to Democrats?

On the minimum wage, in November he said, “We have to leave it the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum. … [W]e cannot [raise it] if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it.”

But this week, Trump said, “I am open to doing something with it, because I don’t like that. Because I’m very different from most Republicans. … I mean, you have to have something that you can live on.”

This Donald vs. Trump debate is nothing new. There’s a reason Stephen Colbert got five minutes of comedy gold just playing one Donald soundbite against another from Trump. He has reversed himself on, just to name a few, ObamaCare, Iraq, 9/11 and the pope.

What issues are next up for a flip-flop? Amnesty? (As it is, he’s always pushed for “touchback amnesty.”) That wall Mexico is going to pay for?

Inexplicably, this constant contradiction also seems to be part of Trump’s appeal. He’s “unpredictable” and not “programmed.” He’s not a “polished politician.” And if Hillary attacks him on one position, he’ll just take a different one. So the question then becomes, how can Republicans unify around a candidate who’s so divided himself?

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