He already gave a major speech on jobs and protectionism back in late June but his campaign needs a reset and his economic message is his strongest card to play. Here he is in Detroit this morning playing it. (Transcript here for those who can’t watch.) It’s an interesting mix of traditional Republicanism and Trump Republicanism. The traditional part of his message: We must unshackle American businesses by cutting through the regulatory red tape that binds them. We must eliminate the death tax, which none of the white working-class white voters in Trump’s base would ever have to pay anyway. We must allow a deduction for childcare, which is nice for middle- and upper-class parents who earn enough to pay taxes in the first place but not so helpful to downscale parents who don’t.
The Trump part of the speech:
When we abandoned the policy of America First, we started rebuilding other countries instead of our own. The skyscrapers went up in Beijing, and in many other cities around the world, while the factories and neighborhoods crumbled in Detroit. Our roads and bridges fell into disrepair, yet we found the money to resettle millions of refugees at taxpayer expense.
“All of our policies should be geared towards keeping jobs and wealth inside the United States,” he says elsewhere. The danger for any candidate in delivering a speech on economics is that the speech inevitably gets bogged down at points in details that the average voter won’t closely parse, especially if they’re listening instead of reading it. Trump’s speech smartly circles back repeatedly to his America First mantra, which is what he wants the audience to walk away remembering. (He also favors big-picture sentiments over detail in his stream-of-consciousness addresses at rallies, but there’s probably a different explanation for that.) Big finish:
American steel will send new skyscrapers soaring.
We will put new American metal into the spine of this nation.
It will be American hands that rebuild this country, and it will be American energy – mined from American sources – that powers this country.
It will be American workers who are hired to do the job.
Americanism, not globalism, will be our new credo.
Our country will reach amazing new heights.
All we have to do is stop relying on the tired voices of the past.
If he spent the next three months repeating those points and avoiding obvious pitfalls like getting sucked into bickering with the Khans, he’d have a real chance to win. He still has some chance to win because he’s going to be on a stage with Hillary Clinton in late September and he’s going to make this same case to an audience of something like 80 million people, and a lot of those people who haven’t paid much attention to the race will like what they hear. His problem at this stage, though, is that many who are paying attention still don’t think he’s minimally qualified for the job in terms of temperament, know-how, and so on. His message is a winning message potentially but the messenger seems fatally flawed. You can always tell when he’s in “serious candidate” mode because he makes sure to have a written text in front of him, like he did for his let’s-hope-this-unifies-the-party pro forma endorsement of Paul Ryan a few days ago. But who seriously believes at this point that he’s going to stick to that sort of discipline? I don’t think Trump would want to be president if he can’t have fun doing it. Jawing at the crowd at his rallies is fun. Reading a BS endorsement of Ryan in hostage-video fashion, as if Reince Priebus is holding him at gunpoint off-camera, isn’t so fun. We’ll see what the next month brings.
One other Trump-y note in the address. In discussing income tax rates (he now supports the House GOP’s plan for brackets of 12, 25, and 33 percent), he assures his working-class base that “For many American workers, their tax rate will be zero.” We’re a long, long way from Mitt Romney doing his makers-and-takers shtick in 2012 about the “47 percent” who pay no income tax. Whatever you think of Trump otherwise, that’s a change for the better.