Donald Trump, a person who will never be president, has nevertheless been the nexus of the American media’s coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign season, an event which is nominally about determining who will be president in 2016. This dynamic will not change in tonight’s Republican debate. As long as it’s going to continue, don’t you wonder what he’d do if he were actually elected?
The only honest answer is that neither I, nor Donald Trump, nor anyone else has any idea. During his numerous dalliances with presidential politics, the policy ideas he’s espoused represent a mix of fantasy and contradiction. Half of them are too wacky to ever be implemented; the other half he’s switched sides on so many times it’s impossible to know where he actually stands. How to increase government revenue without raising taxes? Levy huge new tariffs on imports from China without giving the Chinese anything back for their money. How to ensure all Americans get adequate healthcare? Establish a universal healthcare system, but also demolish Obamacare, the universal healthcare system we already have. I don’t know. Who cares!
The “Positions” section of Trump’s campaign website features a link to the candidate’s stance on the single issue on which he’s built his campaign: immigration. The rest is unaccounted-for and seemingly up to the voter to divine. Based on Trump’s public statements this year and earlier, we’ve taken the liberty of filling out the rest those positions for him, contradictions and all.
The idea that immigration from Latin America presents a grave threat to the livelihoods and nether regions of hardworking white Americans everywhere has been, of course, the cornerstone of Trump’s 2016 campaign. He wants to deport every single undocumented immigrant in the U.S., then build a wall across the entire U.S.-Mexico border, which he’ll somehow convince the Mexican government to pay for. The “good ones,” Trump says, can come back eventually, and they’ll have a “very big, very beautiful door” in the middle of the wall to walk through when they do. Trump’s policy on immigration—the issue on which he’s mounted his platform—is a big wall with a big door.
But back then: In 2012, Trump said that Mitt Romney lost the election to President Obama because of his “maniacal” and “mean-spirited” immigration platform, which encouraged what Romney called “self-deportation.” “For people that have been here for years that have been hard-workers, have good jobs, they’re supporting their family — it’s very, very tough to just say, ‘By the way, 22 years, you have to leave. Get out,” Trump said at the time, the Huffington Post noted. “I’m one of the world’s very conservative people, but I have to tell you on a human basis, how do you throw somebody out that’s lived in this country for 20 years.”
And in 2013, he was encouraging immigration again—but only for Europeans. “I have many friends from Europe, they want to come in,” he said that year. “Tremendous people, hard-working people.”
Trump is presenting himself as a Republican this time around (it wasn’t always so) which means that just about the only position on taxes he’s espousing is that they should be lower. In Dallas this week, he told a crowd of supporters that he’ll have a formal tax plan sometime within the next three weeks, and that the plan will be “really pro-growth.” He’s said that he’ll lower taxes for corporations, “because we want jobs,” and also for the middle class.
But he’s surprisingly progressive on one specific class of taxpayer: hedge fund managers, who he said “are going to be paying up” when he’s elected. He has a point there: because their incomes are classified as capital gains, the richest hedge fund managers pay 20 percent in taxes, whereas someone making the same money in a different field would pay almost twice that.
But back then: Trump was even more cavalier about taxing the rich back in 1999, when briefly ran for president in the Reform Party primary and introduced a proposal that might make Bernie Sanders sport a chubby. Levying a one-time-only tax on the wealthiest Americans for 14.25 percent of their entire net worths would raise $5.7 trillion for the country’s budget, he determined—enough to pay off the national debt, fund social security, and pay for a tax cut for the working class, he said at the time.
Trump even invoked the 99 percent, over a decade before Occupy Wall Street. From a 1999 CNN report on the plan:
“By my calculations, 1 percent of Americans, who control 90 percent of the wealth in this country, would be affected by my plan,” Trump said.
“The other 99 percent of the people would get deep reductions in their federal income taxes,” he said.
But by the time OWS caught on to the catchphrase, Trump had veered far to the right. In 2011, Trump wanted to lower capital gains rates—the opposite of what he’s proposing now—lower taxes on corporations, and eliminate the estate tax, Think Progress notes.
Jobs and the economy
Trump says he will bring back American manufacturing jobs that have since been lost to Mexico and China, but doesn’t have a clear plan for bringing them back. As Daniel Drenzer notes in the Washington Post, it’s mostly a fantasy: many of those jobs didn’t migrate overseas, but disappeared entirely thanks to more automation in the manufacturing process. “I will be the greatest jobs president that God has ever created,” the candidate said in June.
But back then: He was saying pretty much the same thing.
“Obamacare is a disaster,” says Trump. He’s harped on the necessity of securing healthcare for everyone in the past, but as someone who’s looking to obtain votes from register Republicans, he’d be committing political suicide by endorsing President Obama’s plan. So he’s endorsing a “free-market” alternative without saying much about what that alternative entails, other than that it will be “absolutely great.” What’s it called? Donaldcare, of course.
But back then: Trump has long been a vocal supporter of universal healthcare, usually in the Canadian-style single-payer model. He said on Larry King in 1999:
What’s the purpose of a country if you’re not going to have defensive and health care?
If you can’t take care of your sick in the country, forget it, it’s all over. I mean, it’s no good. So I’m very liberal when it comes to health care. I believe in universal health care. I believe in whatever it takes to make people well and better.
Trump supposedly hates abortion, just like every other Republican candidate running this year.
But back then: The Washington Post points to a 1999 Meet the Press interview. “I am very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion, I hate it. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still—I just believe in choice.”
Tapper: I know you’re opposed to abortion.
Trump: Right. I’m pro choice.
Tapper: You’re pro choice or pro life?
Trump: I’m pro life. I’m sorry.
Women in general
But back then: The same, I’m sure.
And black people?
But back then: Probably the same.
Trump is opposed to the Iran deal, and said that he’d put American boots on the ground overseas to combat ISIS and cut off their access to oil. But as CNN notes, an event yesterday that was billed as the candidate’s big foreign policy speech turned out to be an enlightening window into his thought process on the military and national security. Just kidding! It was all about immigration:
“The drugs pour in, and the money pours out. Not a good deal,” Trump said, recalling his visit to the Texas-Mexico border. “So we’re going to build a wall.”
The Republican presidential front-runner — standing in front of three massive guns protruding at 45-degree angles from the battelship — donned his now-trademark “Make America Great Again” hat as he bellowed into the microphone. When his remarks concluded, Trump threw hat after hat into the crowd as patriotic tunes blared.
But back then: Trump doesn’t seem to care about the environment much one way or the other beyond those pesky wind turbines. In 2013, he sued over the construction of turbines that would obstruct the view from a golf course he was building in Scotland.
Trump more or less walks the Republican party line here, according to Think Progress: Against Common Core, downsize the federal Department of Education, take down teacher’s unions, encourage charter schools.
But back then: He didn’t say much, but it doesn’t appear that his views have changed significantly over the years.