The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump is, indeed, the king of debt

President Trump last month in Louisville. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News)

To a large extent, President Trump’s politics were formed in the cauldron of conservative politics during President Barack Obama’s first term in office. On the campaign trail in 2015 and 2016, he railed against things like the Affordable Care Act and Common Core, figuring, correctly, that his base of support would react as favorably to those triggers as he might.

One of the things he talked about a lot during the campaign was the federal budget deficit and the long-term federal debt. By my count, he talked about the debt or the deficit on 190 distinct days from 2011 to 2016. He disparaged Obama for letting the deficit increase and pledged that he would bring the debt under control.

Of course, that wasn’t really his nature. As a businessman, Trump relied on debt. At one point during the campaign, he called himself the “king of debt,” a bit of bragging about how he had increased his wealth. As it turns out, though, that bit of bragging was a better predictor of his presidency than his pledges to keep the debt under control.

On Thursday, the Treasury Department announced that the federal deficit topped $200 billion in August, bringing the total deficit for the year to more than $1 trillion. The last time the annual deficit was that high was in 2013 — which, incidentally, is about when the conservative media stopped regularly caring about the subject.

(A function in part of the decrease in the debt — but also, certainly, of Obama’s reelection.)

Since the administration of President Bill Clinton, there have been two periods of massive federal deficits. The first was during Obama’s first term, in the aftermath of a recession. The other is now, in the aftermath of ... well, tax cuts, in part.

Here’s the monthly buildup of the deficit since Clinton’s first term.

Notice how Trump stands out, not only as having overseen numerous months of increasing deficits but also in the scale of those deficits. Since 1992, there have been 11 months in which the deficit topped $200 billion. Seven of those have happened under Trump.

In fairness, he’s also seen the one month with a surplus that large, but his term in office has seen a greater percentage of months with deficits — 75 percent — than any presidential term in the past 30 years save Obama’s first.

“I’m the king of debt. I’m great with debt. Nobody knows debt better than me,” Trump said in June 2016. “I’ve made a fortune by using debt, and if things don’t work out I renegotiate the debt. I mean, that’s a smart thing, not a stupid thing.”

Asked how you renegotiate the federal debt, Trump said it was simple.

“You go back and you say, hey guess what, the economy crashed,” he said. “I’m going to give you back half” of what I owe.

The president of debt has yet to try that tactic.