Today Donald Trump gave a speech in Detroit describing some economic policies he’d like to pursue if he became president, and like with his other periodic “policy” speeches, he sounded as if he was encountering the speech, and the substance therein, for the first time as he sleepily read it off a teleprompter. But that doesn’t mean that the speech doesn’t tell us something important about how Trump would govern if he were to become president. Quite the contrary; in fact, this speech is an important window into Trump’s governing style, or as it might be better understood, his non-governing style.
As you might expect, the speech was full of falsehoods and nonsense, such as the idea that the unemployment rate is a “hoax” and that Hillary Clinton “said she wanted to raise taxes on the middle class.” Like every other Republican in memory, Trump argues that the only thing keeping our economy from rocketing into the stratosphere are the chains that government has locked around it. “I want to jump-start America,” he said, “and it can be done, and it won’t even be that hard.” Also, everyone gets a pony.
It’s tempting to dismiss Trump’s policy suggestions out of hand. But it’s important to understand what he says he would like to do, whether he himself understands it or not. Let’s take a look at what Trump proposed:
- A moratorium on new regulations. This is an idea that is, unfortunately, about as brain-dead as what you might expect from Trump. The assumption is that every regulation is bad, whether it’s meant to ensure food safety or stop pollution or guarantee that workers’ rights are protected or anything else. And if we just stop writing regulations, then corporations, their newfound freedom in hand, will create untold millions of jobs.
- Roll back existing regulations. Trump says he will “cut regulations massively.” This is not particularly surprising — any Republican administration will want to do less regulating. Trump says he’ll also cancel “illegal” executive orders. But he doesn’t say which ones.
- Cut income taxes. Bet you never saw that one coming! This is a key plank in the “Let’s repeat George W. Bush’s economic success” platform. Trump would reduce the number of tax brackets to three, at 12 percent, 25 percent and 33 percent.
- Cut corporate taxes. He would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent. It might be possible to do that without losing revenue if you simultaneously eliminated the complex web of deductions and subsidies that allows so many big corporations to pay virtually no taxes at all; Trump didn’t say anything about that.
- Repeal the estate tax. This is another old Republican proposal, and it’s one they believe in deeply, so pained are they by the thought of someone like Eric Trump having to make his own way in the world without every last untaxed dollar of his father’s money to help him become a fine upstanding job creator. But eliminating the estate tax would have virtually no effect on the economy, except insofar as it would deprive the federal government of substantial revenue. This year, the first $5.45 million of estates are exempt from the tax, meaning that it only affects about 1 of every 500 estates to begin with. (Read more here.)
- Eliminate income tax loopholes. The only loophole Trump mentioned specifically was the carried-interest loophole, which enables hedge fund managers to avoid billions of dollars in taxes. This is something liberals have advocated for some time.
- Make child-care expenses tax-deductible. Sounds family-friendly, but the problem is that it directs the biggest benefits to the upper class, which pays higher tax rates and would therefore get a greater benefit. People at the bottom of the scale, who have no income tax liability (though they pay lots of payroll taxes), would end up getting no benefit whatsoever, despite the fact that they’re the ones for whom child care is often impossibly expensive.
- Pull out of trade deals. Trump spends a lot of time talking about how trade deals have destroyed America, blaming every economic problem anyone might identify on trade. But as usual, he gave few details on what he would do differently, other than impose huge tariffs and initiate a trade war with China. Supposedly he’ll “renegotiate” the deals, but there’s little indication of exactly what terms he’d be seeking or why other countries would accept them.
- Repeal and “replace” the Affordable Care Act. Replace it with what? How is he going to insure the 24 million people who stand to lose their health coverage if the ACA disappears? He doesn’t know yet, but it’ll be terrific, believe me.
I’m pretty sure that if tomorrow you asked Trump what was in the plan he discussed today, he wouldn’t be able to remember most of it. But that’s just the point: Trump isn’t about the details. If he becomes president, he’ll be outsourcing all that boring wonky stuff to the people around him — who will be most of the same people who would staff any Republican administration. Does anyone think Trump will be deep in the weeds figuring out whether the Labor Department’s budget should be cut by 26.3 percent or 26.4 percent, or whether this corporate subsidy can stay but that one has to go? Of course not.
If you’re a Republican, that’s good news, and it gets to the heart of why it’s still rational for so many Republicans to support him despite all the despicable things he says and does. Trump’s economic plan may contain a new idea or two somebody on his staff tossed in, and it does differ with the standard Republican fare on trade. But at its core, it’s what every Republican wants: lower taxes and less regulation for businesses. And if he were president, Trump would pretty much sign whatever legislation a Republican Congress sent him and let the people who care about policy take care of policy.
What would that leave him to do? As he said in Detroit, “When I’m president, we will start winning again. Bigly.” So there you go.