So this exchange between Trump and Bret Baier, in a Fox News appearance last night (go to the 20 minute mark) may not inspire much confidence in that regard:
BRET BAIER: You’ve been very clear on the stump that you oppose any reform of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Yet you told the Washington Post you would eliminate $20 trillion in U.S. national debt in eight years.TRUMP: No, no. I think what they really were referring to — I’m very good at understanding banking, debt, all of that. I’m one of the all time professionals. We can cut, we can discount, we can buy at discounts, we can see where interest rates…BAIER: Without changing those three things?TRUMP: No, we can discount debt. For instance, we may refinance when interest rates are so low. A lot of people think we should refinance, taking some extra money and redo the infrastructure of our country. You know, we’ve spent $4 trillion plus in the Middle East.We have to look at our numbers….We owe $19 trillion. Soon it’s going to be $21 trillion. We’re going to have to do something about our debt.BAIER: Negotiating with Paul Ryan on his plan that every Republican — almost — has voted on, is one of the things you’re…TRUMP: Well, I want to make our country rich again. I want to bring back our jobs. I want to make our economy soar. I want to do things that will make us so rich that we won’t have to hurt Social Security. We won’t have to hurt Medicare. We’re going to make our country rich again.
It’s not easy to make sense of this, absent more detail. But Trump seems to be speaking approvingly about rolling over Treasury debt into lower-interest-rate vehicles, and plowing the resulting savings back into spending on our infrastructure. Trump has, of course, repeatedly talked about rebuilding the country’s infrastructure — something that has already made some fiscal conservatives suspicious of him. But here he seems to be going a step further, speaking in positive terms about paying for that infrastructure spending with any debt savings that his fiscal wizardry produces, rather using those savings to bring down the debt.
Indeed, in this exchange, Trump also declines to endorse the Ryan plan, which would cut government dramatically in order to address our long term fiscal outlook. Instead, he says that his policies will make the country so rich that we won’t need to cut entitlements. We can have it all — vastly reduced deficits; no entitlement cuts; and more spending on infrastructure.
And there’s still more — we can also have lower taxes, especially on the rich! According to the Tax Policy Center, here’s what Trump’s tax plan would do:
His proposal would cut taxes at all income levels, although the largest benefits, in dollar and percentage terms, would go to the highest-income households. The plan would reduce federal revenues by $9.5 trillion over its first decade before accounting for added interest costs or considering macroeconomic feedback effects.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has also concluded that Trump’s tax cuts would require a dramatic downsizing of government.
It’s hard to see how all this math could be made to work. Trump’s answer appears to be that he’d basically obliterate current fiscal and mathematical realities by making the country richer than ever before.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on another way that President Trump would get a handle on our fiscal problems:
Trump said in a television interview Thursday that he might seek to reduce the national debt by persuading creditors to accept something less than full payment…. “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.” …Such remarks by a major presidential candidate have no modern precedent.
As Brian Beutler says, all this is not occurring in a vacuum: Republicans have been pursuing reckless and unlikely fiscal schemes for years, such as provoking debt ceiling crises and talking up the Balanced Budget Amendment. Trump may be breaking exciting new ground when it comes to outlandish policy proposals, but he’s also relying on plenty of Republican precedent.
Yet now Paul Ryan needs Trump to show very visible improvement. He needs Trump to give him cover to argue that the GOP nominee really is mellowing in terms of temperament and policy and is even embracing “conservative principles.” This might take the form of Trump toning down the xenophobia and repudiating his Muslim ban; or it might take the form of Trump offering more convincing paeans to fiscal conservatism and limited government. But Trump has doubled down on his plans for immigrants and Muslims, and judging by his latest fiscal pronouncements, he is showing no signs of moving towards Ryan on that front, either.