In his brief flirtation with a possible presidential campaign, Donald Trump has offered up a head-turning agenda to accompany his swaggering presidential style: a bellicose foreign policy and a domestic economic policy long on generalities and short on ideological certitude.
The New York businessman has grabbed headlines with his provocative remarks on President Obama’s birthplace. He continues to question whether the president was born in Hawaii, despite ample evidence that he was. But what he has had to say about real issues deserves as much attention as his “birther” comments.
In the past week alone, he has held forth on a range of serious topics in interviews with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, CNN’s Candy Crowley, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, and Fox’s Greta Van Susteren and Alisyn Camerota. The transcripts tell the story. Being Trump apparently means being able to say about nearly everything, “It’s so easy.”
Trump is militaristic. His Libya policy is simple. Obama is “weak and ineffective,” there and elsewhere, he says. What would he do? “I would go in and take the oil. . . . I would take the oil and stop this baby stuff.” Otherwise, he would not go into Libya at all. As for the Libyans, “I’d give them plenty so they can live very happily,” he says.
He holds similar views on Iraq. Trump worries that once U.S. troops leave, as they are set to do by the end of the year, the Iranians will move in. What is his solution? “We stay there, and we take the oil,” he says. He is not happy that the United States has spent, in his estimation, $1.5 trillion on the Iraq war. “We could have rebuilt half the United States” with that money, he argues.
Stephanopoulos asked, “So, we steal an oil field?” Trump responded: “Excuse me. You’re not stealing anything. You’re taking — we’re reimbursing ourselves. And we reimburse all of our allies. And we give every family a million or $2 million or $3 million who lost a son or a daughter. And all of the wounded that are all over the streets of all of the cities and all of the country.”
Trump believes the United States has acted like a chump militarily. He longs for the times when empires acted like empires. “In the old days,” he told Crowley, “when you have a war and you win, that nation’s yours. This country is a laughingstock throughout the world.”
Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates may believe it’s time to cut the defense budget, but Trump doesn’t. He wouldn’t touch it. “We need great defense,” he told Guthrie. “I guarantee you, of all the Republicans, I’m the strongest on defense.”
Unlike the feeble Obama, Trump says, he could bring down rising gasoline prices and force the Chinese to compete on an even playing field. As he says, “It’s so easy.”
A consummate dealmaker as a real estate developer, Trump declares he would bring those same skills to negotiating with the Chinese or OPEC nations. On the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, he says: “We don’t have anybody in Washington that calls OPEC and says, ‘Fellows, it’s time. It’s over. You’re not gonna do it anymore.’ ”
Trump is ready with a strategy. “I’m gonna look them in the eye and say, ‘Fellows, you’ve had your fun. Your fun is over.’ ” If they don’t respond, he would pull the U.S. military out of the region, just like that.
To stop the Chinese from manipulating their currency, he would use the same diplomatic approach. “I wouldn’t be holding state dinners with — where Obama is shaking hands and bowing. I would be having a very, very strong talk with the president of China,” he told Camerota.
He believes that, despite the amount of U.S. debt held by the Chinese, the United States has a stronger hand. “They have some of our debt. Big deal,” he says. “It’s a very small number relative to the world, okay?”
If the Chinese did not respond to his overtures, he says, he then would impose a 25 percent tariff on all Chinese products coming into the United States. “As soon as they believe it’s going to happen, they will behave so nicely because it would destroy their economy,” he says.
Trump’s answer to the long-term debt and deficit problem at home is a roaring economy that would generate enough revenue to wipe out both. His answer to questions about how he would restore that kind of growth is equally straightforward.
“We can do it, by getting jobs, by bringing our jobs back, bringing them back. Let the other countries worry about themselves,” he says. How would he do that? “Very easily,” he told Van Susteren. “Just by putting the incentives to have people employ our people, not to employ people from India, China, Mexico and other places.”
As Congress and the president near a critical vote on raising the debt ceiling, Trump stands firm. He would not raise the debt ceiling. Wouldn’t economic chaos loom if the United States defaulted on its debt, as many economists warn?
“What do economists know?” Trump asked Guthrie. “Most of them aren’t very smart.”
If he wouldn’t raise the debt ceiling, how would he avoid default? “I don’t think you have to default,” he says. “You’re going to have to make a deal someplace.”
Trump isn’t ready, however, for big changes in entitlement programs, particularly Medicare. Asked about the Republican plan authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Trump says: “I think he’s way, way, way far ahead. I think he’s got to let the Democrats do a little leading. He’s put himself too far out in front. I am not for doing anything at all negative to senior citizens.”
He once favored a “net worth” tax for people with net worths of more than $10 million. He’s “no longer for that tax.” He strongly opposes Obama’s health-care law, although as Stephanopoulos pointed out, he once favored something akin to universal health care. He has since changed his mind.
“I support health care for people,” he now says. “I want people well taken care of. But I also want health care that we can afford as a country. We have a different country today. We can’t afford things that we could have afforded or that we thought we could afford.”
Trump is near or at the top of recent polls testing the field of Republican presidential candidates. He says he will make a decision about whether to run by June, and some people who have talked to him believe he is more serious than ever. If he does join the race, the Republican debates could be even livelier than expected. The other candidates, who must be itching to challenge his view of the world, should take him seriously.