The greatest trick Donald Trump has played during the 2016 campaign might be getting the Republican Party to nominate a lover of big government.
As Trump continues to roll out his policy proposals, he keeps wading into the kind of anti-free market, activist government territory that Republicans usually avoid like the plague.
While Hillary Clinton is talking about making public colleges tuition free, Trump made his own counterproposal Thursday night: Force colleges to make tuition cheaper ... by threatening them. Trump said he would withhold tax breaks from colleges who don't use their endowments to reduce the cost of tuition.
"Instead these universities use the money to pay their administrators, to put donors names on their buildings, or just store the money, keep it and invest it," he said. "In fact, many universities spend more on private-equity fund managers than on tuition programs. But they should be using the money on students, for tuition, for student life and for student housing. That's what it's supposed to be for."
Similarly, a couple weeks ago, Trump unveiled his plan to mandate six weeks of paid maternity leave and lower the cost of child care by making it completely tax deductible — up to the average annual cost of child care in that state.
Both are proposals that probably appeal to voters. But they're also both counter to long-standing Republican Party orthodoxy, which holds that the free market is the best arbiter of such things and that the role and size of government should rarely be expanded. These kinds of proposals are often dismissed by the GOP as government handouts and intrusions on the free market.
It was only four years ago, you may recall, that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney blamed his loss on President Obama and the Democrats offering "gifts" to their voters — especially minorities and young people. By this definition, Trump is also very much in the gift-giving business:
- He has called for a massive increase in defense spending that the Trump campaign has said would amount to as much as $500 billion over 10 years, by eliminating the sequester that forced spending cuts when Congress was unable to reach an agreement on a budget.
- Trump has said he wants to spend at least double the $275 billion over five years that Clinton has proposed spending on rebuilding the country's infrastructure — roads, bridges, etc. “By the way, [Hillary Clinton's] numbers is a fraction of what we’re talking about; we need much more money than that to rebuild our infrastructure," he told Fox Business Network in August. "I would say at least double her numbers, and you’re going to really need more than that. We have bridges that are falling down.” He even said in his last book that infrastructure requires "a trillion-dollar rebuilding program."
- He has said he would prevent the Ford Motor Company from building a plant in Mexico by threatening it with tariffs on anything produced there. "Let me give you the bad news: Every car, every truck and every part manufactured in this plant that comes across the border, we’re going to charge you a 35 percent tax — okay? — and that tax is going to be paid simultaneously with the transaction," he said last year.
- Trump has said he thinks eminent domain — government seizing private property and compensating people for it in the name of developing it — is "wonderful."
- He has proposed massive increases in illegal immigrant enforcement that The Fix calculated would cost more than $50 billion over five years — potentially even doubling the amount spent on it.
- While Republicans have pushed for entitlement reforms to keep such programs as Social Security solvent, Trump has said he won't do it — at all. "I will do everything within my power not to touch Social Security, to leave it the way it is," he has said. He has also said: "It’s my intention to leave Social Security the way it is — not increase the age and to leave it as is."
To be sure, Trump's positions on any of these issues are liable to change at any moment. He's also said, for example, that he would look at reforms to Social Security for future generations.
But it remains one of the more remarkable aspects of 2016 that the nominee of a party that has so emphasized shrinking government in recent years is calling for a very activist role for American government. And Trump only seems to be getting started.