Since the debate over what he said yesterday is still raging, it’s only fair that you get to hear his latest comment about it. Skip to 8:35 of the clip below from last night’s interview on Trump TV.
His response to Hannity’s question about North Carolina is a dodge but it’s a dodge with a conservative pedigree. If you’re a Republican who’s been put on the spot about a hot-button social issue, you can’t go wrong saying, “Leave it to the states.” Even righties who disagree with you on the merits will tip their caps at your nod to federalism. In fact, this is Cruz’s go-to answer whenever he’s asked about gay marriage or marijuana. He’s against legalizing either, he’ll tell you, which pleases social conservatives, but he’s also not looking to use federal power to impose his personal preference, which pleases everyone else. Trump’s answer is trying to create the same dynamic — with a twist. Instead of reassuring non-Republicans that he’ll defer to their local preference, as Cruz does when he gives the federalism answer, Trump’s reassuring his own party. He’s telling the same evangelicals who helped him crush Cruz across the south that he’ll pose no obstacle to them on this issue as president, which is an … interesting position for a soon-to-be party nominee to find himself in with respect to his own base.
There’s one other key difference: Cruz opts for a federalist answer on gay marriage and marijuana because each of those issues has been pushed by social conservatives at the federal level. Marijuana is regulated by the federal government, of course, and SSM opponents have spent years calling for a Federal Marriage Amendment. Cruz, in choosing federalism, is answering a bona fide question of whether the states or the feds should govern on those topics. There’s no similar state/federal dispute over North Carolina’s law. No one’s calling for a Federal Transgender Bathroom Amendment. Trump seizes on federalism, in other words, not because there’s a legitimate question of which government should address this subject but because he understands that federalism is a crowd-pleasing way to dodge when you don’t know what to say. It’s another small example of him not knowing how to speak conservative fluently.
I wouldn’t call it a flip-flop, though, as some Trump critics have on social media. This is a flip-flop:
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) April 22, 2016
That’s from an interview with Fortune Magazine, which pressed him on why he could possibly believe he might pay off America’s $19 trillion debt in 10 years. “I didn’t say 10 years,” Trump replied. Er, three weeks ago he said he could pay it off in eight years, and that he’d do it mainly by renegotiating America’s trade deals, which wouldn’t remotely approach $2-3 trillion per year in surpluses. How you reconcile that with what he said to Fortune, I have no idea. Maybe that’s what Paul Manafort meant by Trump playing a “part” earlier and shifting to a more sober approach now. The old Trump would lie, lie, lie right to your face about his superheroic powers of debt-slashing. The new, serious Trump will be more realistic, “realistic” in this case meaning somehow spending more on the military and on infrastructure and not laying a finger on entitlement spending (as Trump has promised before) and yet somehow still reducing the debt in the process. Old Trump, in other words, was more like Superman whereas new Trump is more like Batman — wildly implausible, if not quite outright impossible.
Here’s the Hannity interview, followed by Cruz trying to capitalize on Manafort’s comments to the RNC.
Update: Looks like Team Cruz is all-in on this. They just dropped two ads on Trump over his North Carolina criticism.