It’s time to Break It Down!
As virtually every lucid American knows, Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican candidate for President. In becoming so, he has crafted his own fairy tale of a personal story, defeating sixteen major candidates along the way, many of them GOP heavyweights. When he announced his candidacy a little over a year ago, most people chuckled and presumed he would be relegated to a veritable trash bin of also-rans by the advent of the first couple of primaries. There being no shame in my game, I freely admit, I was one among the collection of most people.
However, let the record reflect, I became a believer sooner than most. It is quite possible I watched the progression of the race closer than many people did. In doing so, I noticed what to me was the development of an interesting phenomenon, and it emerged quickly.
In his campaign launch, Mr. Trump skewered Mexican immigrants, calling them, among other things drug dealers and rapists, as he offered, upon his personal authority, Mexico does not send us its best. He pledged to build a wall, and not just to erect it, but he insisted that he would force Mexico to pay for the wall.
On its face, this seemed to cast Trump’s kickoff as not just inauspicious, but divisive, troubling, and almost certainly, quickly disqualifying. The thing is it did not play out that way. Yes, his strident commentary was a trending topic for a few days. But any great clamor of disgust and disbelief was offset by a populist attaboy that while not rising to the level of groundswell was clearly palpable.
Then there was the case of the inconvenient war hero. Donald Trump questioned whether Arizona Senator John McCain, who was held as Prisoner of War (POW) for five and a half years by the North Vietnamese, was a war hero. As Trump put it, “I like people who weren’t captured.” While Senator McCain called on Trump to apologize to military families, particularly those of POW’s, he did not make a point of taking on Trump in a personal frontal assault. Several of the other sixteen candidates did though, perhaps seeing this as an opportunity to make quick work of the upstart Trump.
Next up, enter South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who defended his friend’s (Senator McCain) war record, and called Trump’s “antics” the last straw, and the multi-billionaire himself a jackass. Graham laid it all on the line, saying:
“I can understand being frustrated about immigration, but there’s no justification to slander a bunch of people that are hardworking folks. This is a line that is crossed. I think the American people, the caucus-goers; the primary voters are going to fix this. To the other candidates, this is your chance to do the right thing and disassociate yourself from somebody who has basically shown a lack of judgment to be commander-in-chief and to be President of us all.”
Shortly after Lindsey Gram’s appeal, Trump made a campaign trip to South Carolina. During the rally, in Graham’s home state, he thoroughly dissed the Senator, and topped off his rant by revealing the Senator’s cell phone number to the crowd, a television audience, and America at large.
Among the rest of the GOP field, former Texas Governor Rick Perry answered the call most fervently. He aggressively called out Trump for having attacked Senator McCain’s war hero bona fides. At worst, it was a bad move; at best, it did nothing to bolster his campaign. He could take solace in having stood up and done the right thing. Alas, by shortly after Labor Day he was forced to suspend his campaign. Even though he had significant Super PAC support, he found himself unable to raise sufficient funds through traditional campaigning to keep his run afloat.
Donald J. Trump entered the 2016 Presidential race June 16, 2015. Rick Perry exited the race September 11, 2015. Once again 9/11 was a bad day, at least symbolically for Perry and his supporters. More important, in less than three months, I totally re-evaluated my position on Donald Trump and the degree to which he was a player among the Republican field. Before fall, and long before the fist primaries, I argued that Trump was not only for real, but I was certain he had a great shot to be the last person standing when the GOP dust settled. And here he stands.
The question now is what, if anything, does he stand for, as he and the GOP approach this month’s Republican National Convention. I have written before about Mr. Trump’s mercurial tendencies as it relates to the issues he supports and defends…or despises and attacks. If you ask Mr. Trump, he might tell you he is famous for his brand, and that his brand is that of a wealthy, successful, did I say wealthy, very wealthy businessman.
It is true that Mr. Trump owns and runs lots of businesses, and that he has earned billions of dollars. It is also true that he has lost lots of money, and filed for bankruptcy multiple times; at least four, I believe. But who’s counting?
Aside from his self-proclaimed business acumen, his foray into the political arena means its fair game to take a look at his positions on the major policy issues that confront our nation on a daily basis. As commander-in-chief, he will be called upon to navigate, with the help of his cabinet, our great ship of state, through the difficult currents of war, peace, the economy, immigration, and a host of other pressing matters.
With that in mind, here are ten issues upon which Mr. Trump zigged and then subsequently zagged:
- Debt – In March, Mr. Trump told the Washington Post that he would eliminate the $19 Trillion national debt “Fairly quickly, over a period of eight years.” By April he told Fortune that he could only pay off a percentage of the debt over a period of ten years. He was vague on the actual amount. He later told CNN that if the U.S. were unable to pay back its debt in full, “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.” It should be noted that economists have denounced this strategy.
- Minimum Wage – Recently Mr. Trump gained lots of attention for his stance on the federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 an hour. He tweeted May 11, that “Goofy Elizabeth Warren lied when she says I want to abolish the Federal Minimum Wage. See media – asking for increase!” However, that has not always reflected his posture. November 11, he answered a debate question about raising the minimum wage, saying, “I would not do it.” May 8, he told ABC that he is “looking at an increase, but I haven’t decided in terms of numbers. But I think people have to get more.” The same day he told NBC “I would like to see an increase of some magnitude. But I’d rather leave it to the states. Let the states decide.” Not surprisingly, some media outlets, including The Washington Post, argue, “In the context of the policy debate, these phrases mean exactly nothing.” At least some Republicans are seeking clarification. The rest of America likely perfectly understands.
- Taxes – Similar to Mr. Trump’s minimum wage views, his tax plan elicited elevated scrutiny. Trump, in classic GOP fashion, promised tax cuts…for the wealthy. Conservatives, however, have accused him of backtracking and planning to raise taxes on the wealthy. Oh my! The Washington Post and MSNBC are among those saying that people overreacted, and that Trump never actually flip-flopped on tax breaks for the rich. Trump explained to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that taxes on the wealthy are definitely a part of his plan, “but by the time it’s negotiated, they’ll go up.” The confusion may very well be unwarranted, a result of Trump’s typically vague policy statements. But that still doesn’t explain his April 21, statement, in which he told the “Today” show’s Savannah Guthrie that he does believe in raising taxes on the wealthy. And let’s not forget that in 1999, Trump advocated a one-time tax of 14.25 percent on Americans worth $10 million or more. The tax hike would have been the largest in history, in terms of total dollars. Oops!
- Temporary Ban on Muslim Immigration – December 7 (the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack) the Trump campaign issued a press release stating “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Recently Mr. Trump walked back this controversial stance, telling Greta van Susteren that the ban was “only a suggestion.” He insisted the measure would be temporary. She asked him if he wanted to back off the idea. Trump responded, “Sure I’d back off on it. I’d like to back off on it as soon as possible, because frankly, I’d like to see something happen.” Just in the past few days, he has raised the stakes and reframed the discussion by de-emphasizing Muslims, and elevating the countries from which they hail. While visiting his golf course in Scotland over the weekend, he told reporters, “I want terrorists out. I want people that have bad thoughts out. I would limit specific terrorist countries and we know who those terrorist countries are.” Can you say bait and switch?
- Abortion – May 10, Trump told FOX anchor Bill O’Reilly “I will appoint judges that will be pro-life.” He even claimed, “The biggest way you can protect” the sanctity of life “is by electing me president.” Surprising, given that Trump was, by his own admission, “in a meek fashion pro-choice.” Trump told O’Reilly “we will see about overturning” Roe V. Wade, but just last month the candidate told CBS News that “at this moment the laws are set. And I think we have to leave it that way.” Trump has also taken criticism for comments he made about punishing women who violate abortion laws – comments he backtracked only hours later.
- Nuclear Proliferation – March 25, Trump spoke with the New York Times regarding his brand of foreign policy. Despite stating “I personally think it’s the biggest problem the world has, nuclear capability,” Trump seems unsure of whether he would oppose other countries expanding their nuclear programs. In the same interview, he explained that allowing Japan and South Korea to build nuclear arsenals was “a position that at some point is something that we have to talk about.” He added, “They’re going to want to have that anyway with or without me discussing it, because I don’t think they feel very secure in what’s going on with our country.”
- The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars – August 6, Trump claimed at a debate that, “In July of 2004, I came out strongly against the war with Iraq, because it was going to destabilize the Middle East. And I’m the only one on this stage that knew that and had the vision to say it.” He has also stated frequently that he opposed the war even before it started. Yet, numerous fact checkers have subsequently found no trace of Trump’s vocal opposition to the war prior to the March 2003 invasion. The Huffington Post, PolitiFact, and The Washington Post (twice), have researched his claims and found not a shred of evidence to support them. He also changed his position on the war in Afghanistan. October 6, he said, “We made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place.” Fast forward to October 20, when he claimed, “I never said that.” Go figure!
- Torture – During the course of the March 3 debate, Trump stated that “We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding” in the fight against terrorism. Previously, on December 2, Trump told Fox News “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families.” Debate moderator Bret Baier pointed out that targeting families would be illegal, and the military would refuse to carry out illegal orders. Trump replied, “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.” The next day, apparently after checking with someone who actually knows the law, predictably, he reversed field and told the Washington Post, “I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters.” There is a point at which stuff such as this stops being funny and starts being scary, when you consider this guy will be one of the Final Two pursuing the office of President.
- Attack Ads (on GOP and on Hillary) – May 11, Trump told the AP that he may avoid running attack ads against Hillary Clinton in the general election. “I just don’t find them to be very effective,” he explained. “I’ve had over $100 million in negative ads spent on me and every time it’s boosted my numbers.” But Trump has arguably become famous for his negativity on the campaign trail, criticizing opponents on both sides of the political spectrum. He routinely called Sen. Ted Cruz “lyin’ Ted” and accused John Kasich of being an “absentee governor.” Just two days ago, Trump’s official Instagram account posted a video that depicts Hillary Clinton laughing over the burning ruins of the U.S. embassy in Benghazi.
- Unifying the Party – When Donald Trump attended a meeting in Washington with the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, eyes and ears of the media and the nation were affixed and awaiting the result. Mr. Ryan was one of a number of prominent Republicans who were slow to endorse Trump, even after it was clear he would be the Party’s nominee. Ryan had told CNN “I’m just not ready to do that at this point. I’m not there right now.” For his part, Trump told the “Today” show May 4, “I am confident that I can unite much of” the GOP. But, May 9, he said, “Does [the party] have to be unified? I’m very different than everybody else, perhaps, that’s ever run for office. I actually don’t think so. I think it would be better if it were unified, I think it would be — there would be something good about it. But I don’t think it actually has to be unified in the traditional sense.” Mic drop?
There are plenty more where those came from, including Teleprompters, Hillary Clinton, and building and paying for a wall, of course, just to name a few. Ten is a nice round number though; I’ll stop there. I think that’s enough to make the point, “Word Association: Trump = Quixotic (impulsive and often rashly unpredictable)!” Not exactly what you want in your next President…at least, I hope.
I’m done; holla back!
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