The face-varnished property developer Donald Trump was at centre stage at the debate and stuck with his key theme of ‘America is bad, but if I’m President it won’t be’. Much like at the other debates Trump gave very little detail and often resorted to personal attacks when pushed by the other candidates on the stage. By continuing to not have policy specifics Trump is almost impossible to analyse, but I will try nonetheless.
Trump kicked off the debate by talking about the minimum wage, although to be honest his exact quote could have been in response to any question about the economy: “I would not raise the minimum wage. We don’t win any more. Taxes are too high, wages are too high, we need to compete with the rest of the world”. Firstly I’m not surprised that he thinks that taxes are too high because he wants to be a Republican President, to say that he was agnostic on the current tax rate would doom his campaign to failure. Secondly, can you imagine if a Democratic candidate had said that “wages are too high”; the Republican Party would go straight to the media arguing that the Democrats want to reduce ‘hard working Americans’ pay’.
The implied policy outcome of this statement is that if wages were lower the economy would be fine, but, even if we accept this false premise as factual, many people would then ask: ‘what kind of economy is only healthy when people are having to work full-time jobs for nowhere near enough money to live on?’, which would be an excellent question. People already work for wages that aren’t enough to live on so this suggestion that everything will be fine if wages were lower makes the whole point of having a job redundant.
On illegal immigration Trump reiterated his desire to deport all of the illegal immigrants currently in the United States, which is estimated to be around 11 million people. He said that he would “build a wall and it would be successful” which is a very detailed, well-costed proposal that is in fact so detailed that I need to lie down in order to process its complexity. When he was challenged by some of the other candidates on the stage he didn’t back down but continued to be vague in his answers. Specifically Ohio Governor John Kasich bemoaned that “we need to control the border but we can’t deport 11 million people”. Don’t worry people, Trump wasn’t going to let this piece of sanity remain unchallenged for long by citing the example who President Eisenhower who “sent one and a half million people out of the country”. When Kasich repeated his point Trump responded by saying “I don’t need to listen to him, I’ve built a massive company”. He finished his remarks on immigration by arguing that a pathway to citizenship would be unfair on people trying to migration to the US legally.
There are two things to note about this exchange. Firstly was the negative reaction from the crowd when Trump attacked Kasich which I found particularly interesting as the GOP base is not exactly a fan of establishment Republicans like John Kasich. The more important part of his comments was the example of Eisenhower’s deportation programme. Eisenhower’s programme was characterised as the fair thing for those people who are migrating the US legally but the programme, which was named ‘Operation Wetback’, didn’t actually deport the number of people Trump thinks it did.
Indeed, according to Mae M. Ngai’s book Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, the number is much closer to around 240,000 people. Also these migrants had their property confiscated and were left stranded without food or water on the other side of the US-Mexican border in the height Summer in July 1955; 88 deported workers died. Even if we ignore the fact that deporting 11 million people would be impossible to do, doing the same programme on that scale could result in thousands of deaths and be classified as a crime against humanity.
On foreign affairs Trump said “we need to make the military, bigger, stronger, and better than ever before so that nobody messes with us”. This is stupid for two reasons: it is completely devoid of detail and thus any criticism is impossible as there are no specifics to criticise; and the US already has the strongest military in the history of the human race, with the defence budget of the next ten countries combined (most of whom are allies of the US). He went on to call the Iran nuclear deal “the worst contract ever signed”, complained that nobody is talking about North Korea, but did say that he was fine with Putin attacking ISIS. He also railed against the moderate rebels in Syria and said that “we should have kept the oil and given the proceeds to the veterans”, which was such a piece of pandering that the audience applauded in a somewhat confused manner.
Interestingly he concluded this section on foreign policy by saying that “we can’t be the policemen of the world, we need to invest in our own country”. The reason I find this interesting is that he presumably thinks that investment in the military counts as investment in America, which would suggest that the whole purpose of the military would be a massive federal jobs programme rather than as a fighting force. My question would be, why not do a federal jobs programme and improve the lives of millions of people rather than continue to inflate the military budget, which, I repeat, is larger than the next ten countries combined.
On trade agreements, Trump argued that the TPP is a horrible deal because it is designed to “let China come in and take advantage of the US”. He then argued that his policy would be to make individual trade deals with individual countries before going back to criticising the TPP by saying that it doesn’t mention currency manipulation, especially by the Chinese. The moderators were going to allow his idiocy to go unchallenged but Rand Paul then chose his moment perfectly by disproving everything that Trump said by pointing out that China isn’t a part of the TPP. That one line made the audience applaud Paul at Trump’s expense because in that moment Trump was revealed for what he truly was: a man with no idea what the TPP actually was.
Trump’s final contribution came in the form of tax loopholes, in which he said that he would encourage people who have stashed a large amount of money in tax havens to bring the money back into the country with a 10% windfall tax. His rationale was that this would be used to create jobs in the US however, as anybody critical of trickle-down economics would point out, there would be nothing to stop these companies giving this money to its executives as dividend payments thus making this policy have no positive impact on job creation. He also said that he would “make America great again”, which is Trump’s campaign slogan that he definitely didn’t steal from Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.
Donald Trump’s contribution to the debate, in terms of policy detail and substance was minimal but apparently that doesn’t matter. His boisterous posturing and aggressive answers without any foundation in facts has proven in the past to be a successful formula for him. His performance was slightly worse than other debates but this is probably because he was given less time than previously. In any case it is getting more and more likely that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate, which will be a gift to the Democrats.