Donald Trump’s speech at the Detroit Economic Club, if anything, only hurt him at a time he’s plunging in the polls. Here are seven reasons:
1. To put it bluntly, wonkish and intellectually honest Republicans of the type who would pay attention to an economic speech long ago figured out Trump is a fraud. They know his numbers don’t add up and his anti-globalism is bunk. Conservative Doug Holtz-Eakins called it an “incoherent mess,” blasting his “horrific ideas (renegotiating NAFTA, killing TPP, tariffs, and other anti-trade initiatives)” and chiding him for leaving out a list of critical issues. “No mention of federal debt or deficits. No mention of entitlement reforms. No mention of productivity, innovation, the internet, or new and online business models,” he observed. “Nothing, really, about the future. Just a call to return to the steel and cars of the industrial past.” So whom was Trump’s speech targeting? Surely, no one who knows much about economics.
2. Trump managed to confuse even those few people who liked his tax plan. The Post reported:
Many tax experts said Trump’s latest speech reveals an even sketchier picture of his economic vision than previous proposals.
“In general, it’s less clear of a tax plan than it was before,” said Ryan Ellis, a senior fellow at the Conservative Reform Network.
First, Trump pitched new, less aggressive tax cuts and appeared to be backing away from his pledge to end tax liability for 75 million households. Then he introduced a proposal for an investment income loophole that could actually benefit hedge fund managers and suggested a tax break for child care that would do little for the lowest income earners.
“He’s actually doing less for the middle class than he originally planned,” said Martin A. Sullivan, the chief economist at Tax Analysts.
Ellis, who previously served as the tax policy director for Grover Norquist’s group Americans for Tax Reform, said Trump’s proposal to allow parents to deduct the cost of child care would provide no benefit to low income workers and single parents who are unlikely to have any tax liability to begin with.
Republicans were supposed to oppose new deductions and special giveaways.
3. Trump’s fixation on the estate tax — which is applicable to only a tiny fraction of estates (north of $5.4 million) — is the sort of thing that applies to the hardcore, Wall Street-centric GOP base, not even to his own supporters. It’s the quintessential bone to the very, very rich. It’s perfect fodder for Hillary Clinton’s argument he is no friend of the working man.
4. Stilted reading off a teleprompter does not give voters or donors any confidence he has learned anything about policy. To the contrary, it emphasizes that he can sound mildly sane only when he is not saying what he really thinks.
5. Trump is still fixated on the media. Few people listen or hear a speech like this; he expects the media to report on it to persuade voters he has gotten his act together. The mainstream media, which is no longer friendly territory, (rightly) takes the opportunity to fact-check him. He never seems to have grasped that one cannot win a general election relying on the beneficence of free media.
6. Trump’s trade inanity only reaffirms his ignorance about economics. He in essence does not think the United States can really win in the international free market. It’s a loser’s attitude. He claims, “Our annual trade deficit in goods with Mexico has risen from close to zero, think of that, in 1993 to almost $60 billion today. Our total trade deficit in goods hit nearly $800 billion last year. Total trade deficit. Almost $800 billion. This is a strike at the heart of Michigan, and our nation as a whole.” This is nonsense, as countless economists, businesspeople and rational conservatives will tell you. (“It would be foolhardy to force American businesses and consumers to pay more and have less freedom to choose,” writes former trade rep Robert B. Zoellick. “Lower taxes on imports from trade deals save the average U.S. household about $10,000 a year, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Yet Mr. Trump wants to impose steep tariffs to ‘win’ on trade.”
7. He still has virtually no serious policy ideas on issues many voters care about. He declared, “One of my first acts as president will be to repeal and replace disastrous Obamacare, saving another 2 million American jobs.” And replace it with what? Don’t ask! (Moreover, The Post’s fact-checkers explain the 2 million jobs figure isn’t what Trump thinks it is.)
In sum, Trump’s gloom-and-doom message, far from telling us how we win again, says we cannot win. He rejects globalism, which has lifted billions of people out of poverty, provides a panoply of goods and services and maximizes benefits for those who can participate. Rather than help Americans compete (e.g., with job training, open markets), he’s the one ironically who wants to “rig the system” — with tariffs and barriers that make life tougher for the working and middle classes and economically nonproductive giveaways to the super-rich, people like him and his rich panel of economic advisers.