Trump re­futes Trump

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Eu­gene Robin­son

— How do you nail a blob of mer­cury to the wall? That’s a prob­lem the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee — likely Hil­lary Clin­ton — will have to solve in run­ning against Don­ald Trump, most of whose po­si­tions on ma­jor is­sues are, shall we say, elu­sive.

I say “most” be­cause Trump has been stead­fast on three of his most non­sen­si­cal prom­ises: ban­ning Mus­lims from en­ter­ing the coun­try, forc­ing Mex­ico to pay for a bor­der wall, and de­port­ing 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants. Many of his sup­port­ers surely know he could not pos­si­bly do any of those things if elected pres­i­dent. But some don’t — and would feel be­trayed if Trump sud­denly dropped the whole xeno­pho­bia thing.

On other is­sues, how­ever, try­ing to pin Trump down on what he be­lieves or in­tends has been an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity. This is a prob­lem not only for Clin­ton but for Repub­li­cans who would like to sup­port Trump for the sake of unity but want some idea of where the party is be­ing led.

Trump may fig­ure that if he does enough flip-flop­ping and zigzag­ging and blow­ing of smoke, vot­ers will be­come in­ured — a strat­egy of por­tray­ing in­con­stancy as a virtue, not a fail­ing. Then again, this may just be the way Trump is. He may have few set­tled be­liefs aside from an abid­ing faith in his own bril­liance.

The pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can nom­i­nee has spent the last few days try­ing to ex­plain what he thinks about sev­eral eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial ques­tions. In the­ory, this should be a snap for a bil­lion­aire ty­coon who grad­u­ated, as he al­ways re­minds us, from the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s renowned Whar­ton School. But the more Trump talked, the less he ac­tu­ally said.

On “Meet the Press,” mod­er­a­tor Chuck Todd asked Trump about the con­tra­dic­tion between his tax plan, un­der which the very wealthy would pay less than they pay now, and his sug­ges­tion last week that he might be open to rais­ing taxes on the rich. (I should note that I ap­peared on Sun­day’s show but did not par­tic­i­pate in the Trump in­ter­view, which was pre-taped.)

Trump be­gan by claim­ing that “no­body knows more about taxes than I do.” Then he in­sisted that while busi­nesses and the mid­dle class def­i­nitely needed tax cuts, “for the wealthy, I think, frankly, it’s go­ing to go up. And you know what, it really should go up.”

Ex­cept it really shouldn’t — “We lower the taxes on every­body, very sub­stan­tially,” Trump said, de­scrib­ing his plan — but then again it might. The plan is merely a pro­posal, he said, sub­ject to ne­go­ti­a­tion. And in the end, the rich are “prob­a­bly go­ing to end up pay­ing more.”

Trump was no more lu­cid in try­ing to de­scribe where he stands on rais­ing the min­i­mum wage of $7.25 an hour. You may re­call that in a de­bate last Novem­ber, Trump said that “I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is.” Oth­er­wise, he said, “we’re not go­ing to be able to com­pete against the world.”

On Sun­day, Trump said he had trav­eled around the coun­try dur­ing the cam­paign and “I don’t know how peo­ple make it on $7.25 an hour. Now, with that be­ing said, I would like to see an in­crease of some mag­ni­tude.”

If you thought that meant he had changed his po­si­tion, you would be wrong. The states should set their own min­i­mum wage lev­els, he said. “But I think peo­ple should get more. I think they’re out there. They’re work­ing. It is a very low num­ber.”

So, for those keep­ing score, he’s both for and against tax hikes for the wealthy and wage in­creases for the work­ing poor.

On Mon­day, in an in­ter­view with CNN, Trump tried to clar­ify com­ments last week that sounded as if he wanted to de­fault on part of the U.S. debt. That’s not at all what he meant, he said, claim­ing that “I un­der­stand debt bet­ter than prob­a­bly any­body.” In­stead, he was sug­gest­ing the Trea­sury could of­fer to buy back U.S. debt if and when in­ter­est rates were to rise.

“First of all,” he said, “you never have to de­fault, be­cause you print the money. I hate to tell you, OK?” Al­righty then. How does a pol­icy wonk like Clin­ton run against a pol­icy-phobe like Trump? Try­ing to de­fine him as in­suf­fi­ciently stu­dious, overly capri­cious and fun­da­men­tally un­se­ri­ous would be like paint­ing a car­i­ca­ture of a car­toon.

Maybe Clin­ton should fo­cus more on de­liv­er­ing an in­spi­ra­tional mes­sage of her own. The job of re­fut­ing Trump is al­ready be­ing done — by Trump.

Eu­gene Robin­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at eu­gen­er­obin­son@wash­post.com.

WASHINGTON

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