Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Times Union Center. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MIKE GROLL
Donald Trump has, purportedly, captured the Republican nomination on the strength of his “straight talk” and his willingness to “give voice to people’s frustrations.”
Under the Trump mythology, which he has studiously constructed through endless appearances on shows like Hannity and Morning Joe, he is a candidate who is never afraid to speak his mind. While other politicians obfuscate, Trump tells it like it is.
The myth of Trump, however, does not survive a cursory examination of his stated positions.
Confronted with a controversial topic, Trump frequently positions himself on both sides of the debate. The result may be an incoherent mess. But the strategy is easy to understand. On several issues, Trump would prefer to have it both ways.
1. Transgender bathroom use
The use of bathrooms by trans people has become the latest front in the culture war. Some states, like North Carolina, have passed laws that effectively legalize discrimination against trans people, putting people at risk. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been using its influence to encourage schools to respect trans identities and keep people safe.
Which side of this debate does Trump fall? Both sides.
Trump tells O’Reilly tonight that Obama’s transgender bathroom decree are not okay, should be left to states: pic.twitter.com/sbwIUV6o3I
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) May 23, 2016
In an interview set to air tonight, Trump told Bill O’Reilly that America should “protect everyone” but leave the decision up to the states. These states, of course, are making decisions that do not protect everyone.
2. Guns in schools
Hillary Clinton has attacked Trump for supporting guns in the classroom.
Trump responded by saying that he was “not advocating guns in the classroom.” He then said that “teachers should have guns, trained teachers should have guns in classrooms.”
3. The national debt
For some, the national debt is a huge, existential threat to the country. For others, reducing the debt is desirable but shouldn’t take precedence over job creation and economic growth.
Trump says the debt is a massive problem and promises to completely eliminate America’s $19 trillion debt in 8 years. Lopping more than $2 trillion per year off the federal budget is ridiculous on its face. The entire budget for the U.S. military, the largest discretionary program, is only about $600 million.
At the same time, Trump also advocates policies that will make the debt much worse. An analysis by the Tax Policy Center shows that his tax cut alone would add an additional $9.5 trillion to the deficit over the first 10 years. Trump is also promising major spending increases on the military, veterans and infrastructure.
Trump has successfully crafted an image as a straight shooter through a few strongly held controversial positions — a ban on Muslims, a border wall. But one level deeper is a tangled web of contradictory positions.
Trump is behaving like a stereotypical politician. What is atypical is that he’s getting away with it.