Nice catch by Jamie Weinstein from last night’s Trump interview with Hannity. Skip to 3:55 of the clip below for the key bit. To be clear, this an idea Trump proposed 15 years ago, not one he’s proposing now, and he stresses that he would have paired the tax with a balanced-budget amendment to control spending. If you think the hypothetical about 10 dollars in cuts for every dollar in tax hikes is an acceptable trade-off in the name of getting America’s house in order, as some Republicans do, Trump might well agree. The thing is, says Weinstein, lots of conservatives don’t think that’s acceptable. And the reason Trump’s not proposing this tax hike now isn’t because he’s come to think it’s a bad idea, it’s because the national debt has grown so enormous in the intervening years that even soaking the rich wouldn’t pay it down completely. Which means, says Weinstein, that Trump apparently still thinks it’s a good idea on the merits:
Trump’s problem with the tax seems less philosophical than the fact the national debt has increased so much that his proposal would no longer erase it. But that’s not really a good reason to drop the idea. Even if it wouldn’t any longer erase the national debt, erasing $6 trillion or so would go a long way to getting our debt into a more stable position, no?
The point is there are serious philosophical and economic reasons to oppose a massive wealth tax of the type Trump once proposed. But those aren’t the arguments Trump is standing on to explain his reversal in position. Quite the opposite. He maintains the proposal remains fundamentally conservative.
Is it fundamentally conservative now, even if it wasn’t yesterday? Trump is building a fan base among Republicans so ardent that his opinion singlehandedly might carry enough weight with some of them to get them to rethink their view of which position on a given policy matter is the truly conservative one. The conventional conservative read on taxing the rich is that it’ll backfire: More money to Uncle Sam means less capital being invested in the private sector to generate jobs, which means slower growth, which means more economic misery and, ironically, less tax revenue for the government. The view these days among some (not all) Trump fans about conservatism, though, seems to go like this: The establishments of both parties are hopelessly statist, therefore the best way to promote conservative policies is to back the guy who threatens to smash the establishment, whatever his own policies might be. Essentially, Trump qualifies as a “populist conservative” by making up for what he lacks in conservatism with unapologetic populism. So if the establishment’s Republican boogeyman says tax hikes on the rich are worth considering, why not? That’s a small price to pay for sweeping the ruling class away.
That’s how some Trump fans will make peace with this, I assume. For others, resolving the cognitive dissonance of a “conservative” hero endorsing tax hikes is simpler. As one reader put it in the comments to the Headlines item on Weinstein’s post:
This is all a tactic of Trump to confuse the left. It keeps his name in the leftist media, it keeps squishy GOPe people on the defensive and meantime he’s getting tons and tons of free press.
Donald know what he is doing. When he’s done, he will be the perfect conservative nominee, a Tea Party dream.
I think that comment was made earnestly, but I honestly can’t tell some of the parodies of pro-Trump arguments from the real thing anymore. I guess his ongoing defense of taxpayer money for Planned Parenthood is also some sort of brilliant ruse that’ll lead to the total destruction of the abortion industry once President Trump is safely sworn in. Which does, actually, sort of make sense given Trump’s core appeal: If you believe he’d possess some sort of magical power as president through the force of his personality or his wealth or whatever that would somehow force Republicans and Democrats in Congress to bend to his will, then it’s not hard to believe that his defense of Planned Parenthood and tax hikes now will lead to the end of both once he takes power. The beauty of magic is that it seems to make the impossible possible, even when you know it’s an illusion.
Exit question via Rick Wilson: How come all of Obama’s worst traits (not including his fondness for taxing the rich) are okay when they’re found in Trump?