In an interview with Joshua Green, Donald Trump grew thoughtful and reflective as he contemplated the future of a Republican Party remade in the image of Donald Trump:
I asked Trump what he thought the GOP would look like in five years.
“Love the question,” he replied. “Five, 10 years from now — different party. You’re going to have a worker’s party. A party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years, that are angry. What I want to do, I think cutting Social Security is a big mistake for the Republican Party. And I know it’s a big part of the budget. Cutting it the wrong way is a big mistake, and even cutting it [at all].”
What does Trump actually mean by remaking the GOP as a “worker’s party”?
The case that Trump is different from other Republicans — more pro-worker or more “populist” — tends to rest on the idea that he is ideologically open to certain policies that are off limits for limited government conservatives, such as a minimum wage hike, protecting entitlements from cuts, more spending on infrastructure, and tax hikes on the rich.
But the fact is that Trump has not really displayed any particular ideological predisposition in any of these areas.
In most of these cases, Trump is not displaying any firm ideological commitment to a government role in regulating the economy or redistributionist spending on the welfare state. He’s more saying that he will solve problems either through making the country filthy rich in a general sense or exercising some form of financial wizardry that eludes our current stupid leaders.
For instance, on wages, Trump did say that he thinks people should “get more” in a general sense, but he subsequently clarified that he opposed the existence of any federal minimum wage. All this really means is that by getting the country booming, he’ll make sure everyone’s pay will go up.
On entitlements, Trump regularly says that we simply won’t need to cut people’s benefits to keep them solvent because, again, he’ll make the country rich, so there won’t be any problem there. On our infrastructure, as he recently explained, he’d come up with the money to invest more in it by “refinancing” our national debt. In neither of these cases would Trump raise taxes if necessary. He’ll just make the country richer and magically manage our finances more skillfully, and that’ll do it.
In fact, Trump is promising all these things while refusing to say he’d raise any taxes, though this is still not widely acknowledged in the press. Trump did say at one point that he might be open to the rich paying more. But he subsequently clarified that he only meant this relative to his own previous proposal, which delivers an enormous windfall to the wealthy; if he is president, he said, the rich are “still going to pay less than they pay now.”
The point here is that Trump, in promising these things that appear to break from Republican orthodoxy, isn’t actually displaying any meaningful ideological priorities. Rather, he’s essentially saying that we won’t have to make decisions about what or whom to prioritize, because he’ll generally make everything great again. It is impossible to see how all these things could be paid for if anything like his tax plan were to come to fruition, since it would lead to a decline in $10 trillion in revenues over 10 years. Unless, of course, Trump makes the country rich again.
Trade and immigration are, in a way, exceptions to all these things. Trump appears to legitimately favor protective tariffs. But while Trump is speaking to legitimate grievances in this area, his promises are empty ones. He does not talk about spending money to retrain workers or mitigate the pain of globalization. What he’s really vowing to do is kick the asses of other countries, especially China, in order to make trade deals better for America, even if it risks trade wars. As Trump put it: “Who the hell cares about a trade war?” He is offering attitude more than anything else.
Meanwhile, Trump launched his candidacy while vowing mass deportations and a Great Trumpian Wall on the southern border, all the while telling American workers that elites were screwing them by helping give their jobs to parasites and criminals. But here, too, he is offering American workers a scapegoat, not real solutions, since mass deportations and forcing Mexico to pay for that wall are fantasies.
Still, even if his promises in these areas are bogus, in Trump’s mind, trade and immigration do appear to differ from all those other issues, in that he appears to have something resembling genuine convictions about them. Trade and immigration go more directly to his core idea — that he will “make America great again” — than any of the others, and he is plainly more animated when talking about them.
But what this really means is that his future “workers’ party” would probably be organized more around nationalism, nativism and xenophobia than anything else. What could possibly go wrong with that?