Yet the truth is that the president isn’t just uninterested in cutting deficits by reforming entitlements, he’s actively opposed to the idea. Years before he ran for president, Trump was already telling conservative audiences that changes to Social Security and Medicare were political losers. “As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen,” he said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013. Three years later, in the midst of the Republican primaries, Trump told an Illinois radio host that Paul Ryan “wants to knock out Social Security, knock it down, wants to knock Medicare way down.” The future GOP nominee continued:
“Number one, you’re going to lose the election if you do that. . . . I want to keep it. These people have been making payments for their whole lives. I want to keep Social Security intact. I want to get rid of waste, fraud, and abuse. You know, I want to do a lot of things to it that are going to make it much better, actually. But I’m not going to cut it, and I’m not going to raise ages and I’m not going to do all of the other things they want to do, but they really want to cut it and they want to cut it very substantially, the Republicans, and I’m not going to do that.”
With definitive statements like that from the party’s leader, is fiscal conservatism effectively dead? The most ardent budget hawks of the House Freedom Caucus don’t sound optimistic. “It’s on life support,” says Arizona congressman Andy Biggs. Another Freedom Caucus member, Warren Davidson of Ohio, said “a lot of us were really stunned that our party, a party that has for a long time represented fiscal discipline, would even be voting” for the recent budget deal. Kentucky senator Rand Paul was so infuriated by the budget agreement, he delayed the Senate’s vote on the package, triggering a brief government shutdown. “Are we to be conservative all the time or only when we’re in the minority?” Paul asked in a floor speech.