We are witnessing something never before seen in American politics: a candidate who is a pathological liar and who will literally say anything ( I swear it is an exercise in free association) and take both sides on any issue, often in the same statement.
The candidate is the short-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump, who unbelievably is the presumptive nominee of the GOP. 2015 Lie of the Year: the campaign misstatements of Donald Trump, and most recently, Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler, Few stand in Trump’s way as he piles up the Four-Pinocchio whoppers:
[M]ost politicians will drop a talking point if it gets labeled with Four Pinocchios by The Fact Checker or “Pants on Fire” by PolitiFact. No one wants to be tagged as a liar or misinformed, and we have found most politicians are interested in getting the facts straight. So the claim might be uttered once or twice, but then it gets quietly dropped or altered.
But the news media now faces the challenge of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president. Trump makes Four-Pinocchio statements over and over again, even though fact checkers have demonstrated them to be false. He appears to care little about the facts; his staff does not even bother to respond to fact-checking inquiries.
But, astonishingly, television hosts rarely challenge Trump when he makes a claim that already has been found to be false . . . There is no excuse for this. TV hosts should have a list of Trump’s repeated misstatements so that if he repeats them, as he often does, he can be challenged on his claims.
Steve Benen makes the observation, A post-policy party finds a post-policy candidate:
Hillary Clinton’s campaign website features an “issues” page where visitors can read the Democrat’s position papers on 31 different issues. Each page features a fairly detailed overview of the candidate’s approach to the issue — some, including the page on climate change, lead to additional resources with even more specific information — leaving little doubt as to how Clinton intends to govern if elected.
Donald Trump’s campaign website, meanwhile, features a “positions” page with summaries of the Republican candidate’s approach to seven issues. Most of the content is vague and boilerplate, and voters hoping to learn detailed information about how Trump would govern will need to look elsewhere.
As it turns out, this isn’t an accident or the result of a bad web team. Rather, it’s the result of a deliberate decision on the part of the campaign to downplay substantive details ahead of the election. Politico reported yesterday:
A source familiar with Trump’s thinking explained that the billionaire businessman was reluctant to add new layers of policy experts now, feeling it would only muddy his populist message that has been hyper-focused on illegal immigration, trade and fighting Islamic extremists.
“He doesn’t want to waste time on policy and thinks it would make him less effective on the stump,” the Trump source said. “It won’t be until after he is elected but before he’s inaugurated that he will figure out exactly what he is going to do and who he is going to try to hire.”
Oh. So, Trump will eventually put together a policy agenda, but not until after the election. Voters should support the least-experienced, least-prepared presidential candidate of the modern era first, and then he’ll let the public know how he intends to govern.
In The Donald’s case, quite literally buying a pig in a poke.
The traditional model is for a candidate to present an agenda before the election — voters might want to know what they’re voting for — but who needs such antiquated niceties when there’s a nativist demagogue who doesn’t understand how government works running for the nation’s highest office?
I’ve been banging the post-policy drum for a few years now – one of these days, I’d love to find time to write a book on the thesis – but Trump’s “vote now, details later” posture is a terrific encapsulation of the larger problem. In 2016, Republican politics treats substance and policy details as an annoyance to be avoided.
Why “waste time on policy” when the priority should be ensuring a candidate is “effective on the stump”? It’s the kind of thinking that suggests style must always trump substance, because governing isn’t nearly as important as winning.
Of course, it’s worth emphasizing that Trump doesn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. He has no background in public policy or government, so it’s not as if he can help shape a substantive agenda of his own, and even if the presumptive Republican nominee wanted to hire subject-area experts to help him craft a detailed platform, actual wonks would turn him down, wanting nothing to do with his candidacy.
Matt O’Brien at the Washington Post observes, Donald Trump has discovered one weird trick for getting people to agree with him:
Donald Trump has discovered one weird trick for getting everyone to agree with him half the time. That’s taking both sides of every issue.
Or at least appearing to.
Trump, you see, doesn’t so much seem to have firm positions as he has words that have come out of his mouth more recently than other words. Sometimes the new words mean the same thing as the old ones. Other times they don’t. So which ones does Trump “really” believe? Who knows. Perhaps with the exception of Mexico paying for a wall at our southern border, it’s not even clear he does. The answer might be whatever he thinks will help him the most.
And no, that’s not hyperbole. Just look at all the positions he’s taken on all the biggest issues there are.
1. Taxes. Trump was for raising taxes on the rich before he was against before he was for it again before he was … against it again? I think that’s the right number of “fors” and “againsts.” Trump started out by saying he wanted to raise taxes on people like himself, and especially on hedge fund managers who, thanks to maybe the most egregious loophole of them all, only pay taxes at the 23.8 percent capital gains rate instead of the 39.6 percent ordinary income one. So the next thing he did, of course, was put together a plan that, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, would cut taxes for the top 0.1 percent — that’s the richest of the richest — by $1.3 million a year.
That was his position as long as the primaries were going on. Now that he is eyeing the general election, though, he announced that he was “not necessarily a huge fan” of his own plan, and that, over the course of a negotiation, he could actually see the top tax rate going up. Or did he? He, well, clarified a day later that he was only talking about the top tax rate going up compared to how low he wants it to be, not compared to how high it already is. And now there are reports he’s asked Republican economists to do just that. In other words, President Trump would give the super-rich a tax cut somewhere between $1 million and $1.3 million. Good of him to narrow that down.
2. The debt. Trump originally said he’d pay off the entire $19 trillion national debt in eight years. Never mind that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that over this time his tax cuts would only leave him with $25 trillion of revenue to pay for the $21 trillion of Social Security, Medicare, and defense spending he says he will never cut. Which, with a little subtraction, means that he’d come up $15 trillion short of eliminating all the debt even if eliminated all the federal other than those three big programs. Nobody said math was going to be part of making America great again.
It’s not exactly a surprise, then, that Trump has backtracked on all this. “I’d rather not be all that aggressive” about paying down the debt, he told Fortune just a few weeks after he said he’d pay it all down. “I’m the king of debt,” he went on to say. “I love debt.”
3. Paying the debt at all. For the first 227 years of our government’s history, we have made a point to pay all our debts. And with a few exceptions, we have. That, as Alexander Hamilton hoped, has allowed us to borrow on better terms than we otherwise could, and made people trust our debt so much that it’s become a kind of money itself.
But Trump sure seemed willing to throw that all away when he said that he’d “borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.” That, after all, is how he has run his casinos. He’d take big risks with other people’s money, and if those risks didn’t pan out, he’d get them to take less money than they’d been promised. The problem, though, with running the U.S. government this way is that it would turn the safest asset in the world into something less so, and, in turn, destroy bank balance sheets even more than the 2008 crisis.
So Trump quickly explained that he only meant he might buy back some of our bonds if interest rates rose, which probably wouldn’t save money, but at least wouldn’t be the end of the world as we knew it. And just to make sure that people understood he wasn’t advocating a default, he (correctly) pointed out that the U.S. government would “never have to default, because you print the money.” Even that, though, sounded a little too insouciant, so he came back and said that the government’s bonds are “absolutely sacred.”
4. The Federal Reserve. Primary Trump thought it was “a political thing, keeping these interest rates at this level.” But now General Election Trump says that he’s a “low interest rate person” himself. Indeed, he thinks low rates are “the best thing we have going for us” today, since they make it cheaper to pay back the debt and invest in infrastructure. The only thing that could change this calculus, he says, is “if inflation starts coming, and we don’t see any signs of that … [then] you’d have to go up and you have to slow things down.” That’s actually a well-reasoned argument the Fed has been making itself.
5. The minimum wage. First, Trump said he didn’t want to raise the minimum wage at all, since it was already “too high” and “we’re not going to be able to compete against the rest of the world” if it got any higher. Then he proclaimed that he was “actually very different from other Republicans” and would be “open to doing something” about the minimum wage. Finally, though, he explained that while he hoped states would raise their own minimum wages, he didn’t think the federal government should have one at all. So, for those keeping score at home, he’s wanted to keep the minimum wage where it is, raise it, and — as of right now — get rid of it.
6. Immigration. Trump was against companies bringing in foreign workers on H-1B visas, because he thought that was just a way to keep native wages down … until he was for them … until he was against them again.
Trump may be trying to win, but the approach he’s taken also shows he may have become the apotheosis of the GOP’s transformation into what Rachel Maddow has called a “post-policy” party. What do I mean by that? Well, other than cutting taxes for the rich, Republicans have stopped being for things as much as they are just against whatever Democrats are for — even if Democrats are for things that Republicans used to be for. Obama has a stimulus that’s $72 billion bigger than the one House Republicans voted for? Socialism. Obama took Mitt Romney’s health-care plan to the rest of the country? Unconstitutional socialism. Obama wants to implement the kind of cap-and-trade system John McCain ran on? An economy-killing tax. Or, best of all, Obama offers to cut Social Security the way Republicans have demanded? He’s throwing seniors under the bus.
It’s all about affect. All about opposing. Even if he’s proposing policies that Republicans used to. That’s irrelevant. It’s politics as a battle of tribes, not ideas. And that’s why Trump has been able to do so well at the same time that he hasn’t done so well on the whole agenda thing . . . But, again, that doesn’t matter as far as Republican voters are concerned. All that matters is that he’s gotten the most important thing right.
That’s letting them know that he’s on their side, not Obama’s.
Political scientists and the high priests of Beltway centrism, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, wrote back in 2012, Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.