On more than one issue, GOP's Trump sounds like a Democrat

2016-05-15 16:05
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is interviewed in his office at Trump Tower, in New York. (Mary Altaffer, AP)

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is interviewed in his office at Trump Tower, in New York. (Mary Altaffer, AP)

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New York -  As he tries to charm Republicans still sceptical of his presidential candidacy, Donald Trump has a challenge: On several key issues, he sounds an awful lot like a Democrat.

And on some issues such as trade and national defence, the billionaire businessman could even find himself running to the left of Hillary Clinton, his likely Democratic rival in the general election.

Trump is a classic Republican in many ways.

He rails against environmental and corporate regulations. He proposes dramatically lower tax rates. He holds firm on opposing abortion rights. But the presumptive GOP nominee doesn't fit neatly into a traditional ideological box.

In an Associated Press interview, Trump says: "I think I'm running on common sense. I think I'm running on what's right. I don't think in terms of labels."

Perhaps Trump's clearest break with Republican orthodoxy is on trade, which the party's 2012 platform said was "crucial for our economy" and a path to "more American jobs, higher wages, and a better standard of living."

Trump says his views on trade are "not really different" from the rest of his party's, yet he pledges to rip up existing deals negotiated by "stupid leaders" who failed to put American workers first. He regularly slams the North American Free Trade Agreement involving the US, Mexico and Canada, and opposes a pending Asia-Pacific pact, positions shared by Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

"The problem is the ideologues, the very conservative group, would say everything has to be totally free trade," Trump said. "But you can't have free trade if the deals are going to be bad. And that's what we have."

Social Security benefits

Trump long has maintained that he has no plans to scale back Social Security benefits or raise its qualifying retirement age. The position puts him in line with Clinton. She has said she would "defend and expand" Social Security, has ruled out a higher retirement age and opposes reductions in cost-of-living adjustments or other benefits.

"There is tremendous waste, fraud and abuse, but I'm leaving it the way it is," Trump recently told Fox Business Network.

It's a stance at odds with the country's top-ranked elected Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has advocated fundamental changes to Social Security and other entitlement programs. But it's also one that Trump argues keeps him in line with the wishes of most voters.

"Remember the wheelchair being pushed over the cliff when you had Ryan chosen as your vice president?" Trump told South Carolina voters this year, referring to then-vice presidential candidate Ryan's budget plan. "That was the end of that campaign." Ryan was Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012.

Complicating the efforts to define Trump is his penchant for offering contradictory ideas about policy. He also has taken recently to saying that all of his plans are merely suggestions, open to later negotiation.

Trump's tax plan, for instance, released last autumn, called for lowering the rate paid by the wealthiest people in the United States from 39.6% to 25% and slashing the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%.

Trump described it as a massive boon for the middle class. Outside experts concluded it disproportionately benefited the rich and would balloon the federal deficit.

Close to clinching the nomination, Trump now appears to be pulling away from his own proposal. While he still wants to lower taxes for the wealthy and businesses, he now says his plan was just a starting point for discussions and he would like to see the middle class benefit more from whatever changes he seeks in tax law.

"We have to go to Congress, we have to go to the Senate, we have to go to our congressmen and women and we have to negotiate a deal," Trump said recently. "So it really is a proposal, but it's a very steep proposal."

Minimum wage

Trump has a similar take on the minimum wage. Trump said at a GOP primary debate that wages are too high, and later made clear that he does not support a federal minimum wage. Yet when speaking about the issue, he says he recognises the difficulty of surviving on the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

"I am open to doing something with it," he told CNN this month.

On foreign policy, Trump already appears working to paint Clinton as a national security hawk who would too easily lead the country into conflict.

"On foreign policy, Hillary is trigger happy," Trump said at a recent rally, He listed the countries where the US had intervened militarily during her tenure as secretary of state and pointed to her vote to authorise the Iraq war while she was in the Senate.

Trump's own "America First" approach appears to lean more toward isolationism. One of his foreign policy advisers, Walid Phares, recently described it as a "third way".

"This doesn't fit any of the boxes," Phares said.

World peace

Clinton has advocated using "smart power", a combination of diplomatic, legal, economic, political and cultural tools to expand American influence. She believes the US has a unique ability to rally the world to defeat international threats.

She argues the country must be an active participant on the world stage, particularly as part of international alliances such as Nato. Trump has criticised the military alliance, questioning a structure that sees the US pay for most of its costs.

"No, I think I'm much tougher than her on foreign - and I think we won't have to use it," Trump recently told Fox News when asked whether he might come to Clinton's left on some foreign policy issues.

"You know, I appear that I might - maybe to the left. I believe in very, very strong defence. I believe in world peace. I want to help other countries."

Read more on:    donald trump  |  hillary clinton  |  us  |  us 2016 elections

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