Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. (AP photos)

In 1996, President Bill Clinton declared that "the era of big government is over." Twenty-one years later, President Trump is bringing it back.

A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll shows a record-high 57 percent of registered voters say the government should do more for the American people, versus 39 percent who say it does too much that should be left to individuals and businesses.

Since 1995, four separate pollsters -- NBC-WSJ, CNN, Gallup and the Pew Research Center -- have tested this question a combined four dozen times, and this is the most pro-big-government response to date.

As recently as 2011, just one-third (33 percent) of Americans favored bigger government, while 63 percent though it too big. And back in Clinton's day, shortly before the admonition above in his 1996 State of the Union address, the American people were 62-to-32 in favor of smaller government.


What changed? Well, a GOP president, of course. Republicans tend to be more skeptical of the size of government when Democrats are in power.

But even more than that is Trump's rhetoric. While other Republicans will at least talk a good game about shrinking government, he hasn't really bothered; instead he has talked about a $1 trillion infrastructure plan and increasing government borrowing while borrowing is cheap. He gave lip service to balancing the budget as president, but as with many Trump goals, it has quickly gone by the wayside. The White House isn't even pretending that is still a goal.

And Trump's affinity for big government may be one of the truly big paradigm shifts of his presidency. He has taken in a GOP that got religion on the size of government during the Obama administration and is anxious to see what Trump's brand of populist big government can do for it -- the national debt apparently be damned.

Here's a sampling of Trump's big-government proclivities that I pointed to last year:

  • 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 that he wants to spend at least double the $275 billion over five years that [Hillary] 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 that 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 immigration enforcement that The Fix calculated would cost more than $50 billion over five years — potentially even doubling the amount spent on it.
  • Although Republicans have pushed for entitlement reforms to keep programs such 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."

On another front, Republicans seem to have warmed to the idea of government involvement in health care, after decrying it for the past seven years. A January Pew Research Center poll -- even before the GOP tried and failed to replace the Affordable Care Act -- showed the percentage of Americans who think the government has a responsibility to provide health care to everyone had risen from 51 percent to 60 percent.

Among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters, it rose from 19 percent to 32 percent. And more recently, polls show a big shift in the GOP from repealing the ACA toward keeping it and restructuring it.

Consider it one way that Trump has truly changed Washington.