Trump on foreign policy: "When I say they'll do as I tell them, they'll do as I tell them." #GOPDebate— Steven Rattner (@SteveRattner) March 4, 2016
Assuming a general election between Trump and Clinton this year, I have a feeling that Trump will pare back on the full-bore bullying tactics that worked so well in the primaries, focusing instead on promises to the electorate. As he will feel no need to ground them in possibility, these promises will seem, to many, absurd on their face. His aim will be to entice angry and cynically apolitical white Americans onto his bandwagon, thinking: finally!
The common theme of his promises: Make them pay.
Here are two such Trumpish promises that I predict:
Abolish the IRS. At first I thought: He’ll literally bribe the electorate, much as a rudderless, pre-9/11 Bush did when he gimmicked up a one-off $300 refund for all American taxpayers. Maybe Trump would increase that an order of magnitude and promise a $3,000 payout to everyone if elected. Three grand annually, perhaps! But then I figured that if he starts thinking in these terms, he may as well bring it to its logical extreme and simply pledge to end income taxes entirely.
The logic: “You hate taxes, right? Hey, me too! And lemme tell you something else: not one of my businesses ever taxed any of its customers. They paid willingly, and that’s why I’m rich. If we’re going to run America like a business, then let’s stop giving away our goods to the rest of the world. It’s time to make them pay.”
Intimidate Mexico into paying for the border wall. Trump will state that through some combination of military posturing and threats of trade sanctions, the United States can realize his famous fantasy of building a wall along its entire southern border on Mexico’s centavo. And from there, perhaps, he may suggest a larger campaign of using America’s strength to bully other countries into giving it whatever it wants. But even then I see him starting this argument with the wall.
I have two pieces of circumstantial evidence that lead me to these predictions. First, Trump has suggested a desire to massively inflate trade tariffs in the recent past. He likely conjured this idea and its specific numbers on the spot, like so many of his policy statements. That still makes it count as an idea he can retrieve and build upon, or at any rate continue piling upon.
Secondly: I mentioned Maine Gov. Paul LePage in my previous post. For the past year, he has singlehandedly hobbled the state’s ability to self-govern due to his policy of vetoing every bill the state legislature passes, unread and unconsidered. According to his Wikipedia page, he does this in overt retaliation for the state house not approving his plan to eliminate Maine’s income tax. At first he limited his vetoes to bills sponsored by democrats, but when the democrats started succeeding in getting republican co-sponsors in order to work around the governor, he expanded it to include all new legislation.
I want to stress that LePage, who has endorsed Trump, is a twice-elected governor of an American state. Maine is not a large state, but with a very white population and suffering quite a lot of poverty as well, I see it as a living demonstration of the situation where a state’s citizens will vote a political nihilist into its highest office. Twice. Maine’s situation should look like a model — and perhaps to some paying close attention, it may look like an inspiration.
(A lesser example, and perhaps a fluke: the curious case of Robert Morrow, the recently elected president of the GOP chapter in Texas’s Travis County, which contains the capital city of the country’s most populous red state. If LePage is a nihilist, the Morrow is a 4chan troll, posting pornography to his Twitter account, accusing other party members of variously enthusiastic sex acts, and dropping F-bombs in news interviews. Articles about him don’t make it clear how he got elected to lead an important county’s GOP chapter — only that nobody’s happy about it. I’m not sure that his victory is indicative of anything, but it does strike me as an interesting coincidence.)