Is Donald Trump Starting to Sound a Little Serious?

by Patrick Brennan

Business Insider’s Henry Blodget tweeted that Donald Trump sounded quite presidential and serious during an interview tonight on Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect. With all due respect, I was a little skeptical but . . . lo and behold, Blodget has a point.

Trump hit on the following topics: the Ex-Im Bank, his favorite Fed chairman, Federal Reserve policy, the “Volcker rule,” his favorite Treasury secretary, and campaign-finance reform. I don’t agree with Trump on a number of his answers, but they’re pretty much all serious, and demonstrate more fluency with the issues and the remedies people bat around than you might expect from your average citizen-candidate. 

I’ve pasted the full transcript below for your perusal, but brief take on his answers:

Ex-Im: He called it “feather bedding,” something that benefits just politicians and a “few companies” that could “do well without it,” and “really not free enterprise.” This is all quite correct — and those who worry Trump’s close ties to big business and fluency with obtaining favors from government (hello, eminent domain) can be a little more confident that he’ll be pro-market, not pro-business.

The Fed: He said chairman Janet Yellen has been “more of the same,” which is an apt description of someone who indeed hasn’t shown a vision for what monetary policy in these odd times should look like. He admitted he likes today’s low interest rates as a developer but worries they’re inflating a bubble — which I’m not sure is correct, but plenty of serious people believe. He identified his favorite Fed chairman as Paul Volcker, which is a great answer, highlighting that one of Volcker’s best qualities was that he was well-liked and considered articulate.

Volcker Rule: Mark Halperin asked whether Trump agrees with the rule Volcker suggested once upon a time, a separation of proprietary trading and client trading at investment banks, which was passed into law with Dodd-Frank. Trump seemed to know what was up here, too — the rule took so long and so much effort to write and finalize that many worried it would turn out to be a bad idea in practice, if a good idea in theory. This was still probably his least serious answer: Trump said if Volcker is happy with the rule we got (he is, he wants it implemented faster than Wall Street is allowing), then so is the Donald. It’s not great, but it’s a reasonable Trump-style answer.

Treasury Secretary: Asking someone’s favorite Treasury secretary doesn’t seem like a very interesting question to me (though an easy answer is Hamilton), and Trump didn’t bite. Rightly, he said, the Federal Reserve may have much more influence than the Treasury Department now, and that is only growing, because Dodd-Frank has given it serious regulatory powers.

Campaign finance: Trump, who’s criticized other Republicans for selling out to big donors, did dodge a question about whether he thought Citizens United was rightly decided. But his comments on this topic were eminently reasonable — if so much money is going to be sloshing around politics, he said, it should all at least be transparent. Plenty of conservatives have good objections to this, but it’s a sensible position, and he’s quite right that the idea of massive super PACs existing alongside campaigns without technically coordinating is beginning to strain belief.

So, does this suggest Trump’s turning over a new leaf, and will act like a serious, policy-focused candidate when he takes center stage Thursday night? He did start off the interview with some of his unserious China-bashing. We shall see.

The transcript, from Bloomberg, is below:

JOHN HEILEMANN, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Our guest tonight is the real Donald Trump. Mr. Trump, thanks for joining us for a classic Trump phoner. I think you are aware that I was up in New Hampshire last week to conduct a focus group with some Republicans and Independents who are either strong supporters of yours, or leaning toward you.

One of the things that a lot of those people said was, he’s a billionaire. He’s successful. We love that about him, but he’s also one of us. One of us — a phrase that came up a lot. How do you explain that people who see you as so different from them, can also see you as being one them?

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well I’ll tell you it’s very interesting. And I did happen to watch that. It was such a nice, great group of people.

But they see the country like I do. It’s run by incompetent people. We’re being ripped off left and right by China, by everybody. I mean I don’t — it’s not just China. It’s everybody. I mean we don’t make good deals anymore. And they want to see it stop.

From a political standpoint, we’ll have better relationships with those countries than we do now. Now it’s a one-way street out and they all hate us. It’ll change very dramatically.

MARK HALPERIN, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Mr. Trump, also up in New Hampshire in a new poll, voters there, Republican voters are rating you as the best to deal with the economy amongst the Republican field. Obviously people know you’re a successful businessman, but we want to talk a little bit about your views on things related to the economy.

So I want to start with the Ex-Im Bank. That’s a big debate within the Republican Party now about whether it should still exist. What is your view for the pros and cons of the Ex-Im Bank, and where do you come down on it in the end?

TRUMP: I don’t like it because I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s a one-way street also. It’s sort of a feather bedding for politicians and others, and a few companies. And these are companies that can do very well without it. So I don’t like it. I think it’s a lot of excess baggage. I think it’s unnecessary.

And when you think about free enterprise, it’s really not free enterprise. I’d be against it.

HEILEMANN: All right, sticking with this theme, Mr. Trump. I want to ask you a little bit about the Federal Reserve. You think back on all the Fed chairs of the past. Who do you think has been the best?

TRUMP: Well right now you have — or Janet is sort of, more of the same. And I have to tell you I often talk with two hats. I for the last couple of months I’ve been a politician. I’ve been in your world. And previous to that I’ve been a business person. I’ve always loved low interest rates as a developer.

And I’ve always done very well with low interest rates. And I think that frankly, you look at what’s going on now, the problem is I think you’re creating a bubble, and the bubble could explode. I liked Paul Volcker a lot. I thought he was a terrific guy in so many different ways, and he had a good pulse and he had a good — to me he had — he was doing what had to be done.

Right now we have the low rates. Again, from the standpoint of what I do, in terms of real estate, if I want to develop, I’m building the old post office now. I’m just finishing up a Trump National Doral in Miami. From that standpoint I like low interest rates. From the country’s standpoint, I’m just not sure it’s a very good thing, because I really do believe we’re creating a bubble.

HALPERIN: You said you liked Paul Volcker. And do you like the rule named after him as part of Dodd-Frank, the Volcker Rule?

TRUMP: Well I’m not sure if he likes it, but if he’s — you know what, honestly, Mark, if he’s happy, I’m happy. He was a terrific guy. I’ve met him a few times. And I thought he was terrific. But I think his policy and his demeanor — there was something very solid about him. His demeanor were very good.

HALPERIN: Let me ask you same question John asked about Fed chairs. about treasury secretaries. If you look across the history of the U.S., who’s the treasury secretary who you think was the best?

TRUMP: Well, I don’t think I have an opinion on that. I think we’ve had some good ones, we’ve had some bad ones.  But I really wouldn’t have an opinion on that. We’re going to — I know they’re talking about right now lots of beautiful pictures on beautiful bills, and we’re going to see whether or not that works out,  But I have no real opinion on that.

I think actually Federal Reserve right now in this world the way we built it up — probably has more of an impact than almost any other position, other than the couple of biggies.

HALPERIN: Okay. You don’t want to weigh in on any treasury secretary, one you like. Let me just ask you about a recent one who some people like, some people don’t. What do you think of Bob Rubin? Was he a good treasury secretary?

TRUMP: Well I thought he was a smart guy. And he went I think with Citibank, and then Citibank crashed right after he went. So that sort of hurt his reputation, as far I’m concerned. But I think he was a smart guy. I think he worked hard at it.

We were doing fairly well under him. He left and the world cratered. So I don’t know. Does he get some point deductions for that? We’d have to take a look at it. And certainly Citibank didn’t do very well.

HEILEMANN: Mr. Trump, you said that you tweeted the other day something that suggested at least that some of your Republican rivals might be puppets for having gone to the Koch brothers retreat out in California. I want to ask you a policy question, that kind of undergirds all of that, which is about Citizens United. Do you think that that Supreme Court case was rightly or wrongly decided?

TRUMP: Well they’re very good friends of mine. And David Bossie’s a terrific guy. And I know he fights very hard. I guess from my standpoint personally I’d almost rather not see it. You understand that, because I see all of the money that’s being raised by these folks, and they’re raising hundreds of millions of dollars, and ultimately billions of dollars.

And from my personal standpoint, because I’m — I don’t need anybody’s money, and I want to do it the old-fashioned way, and I don’t like the fact that lots of people are getting into the act. So personally I wouldn’t like it. Overall I’m not sure it’s the worst thing in the world. I would like to see it a little bit differently where it’s not PACs, because these PACs are — it’s a total phony deal.

When Bush raises a hundred and some odd million dollars, and then he waits, and waits and waits, because you’re not allowed to talk to the PAC, and you’re not allowed to tell them. And then the money is sitting in there. And then he puts his best friend in charge, or somebody that’s very close to him. And then they never talk.

Well if anybody believes that they never talk, it’s a joke.

HEILEMANN: Right. So will campaign finance reform be an important part of your platform? And if so, what’s the cornerstone of your idea about campaign finance reform?

TRUMP: Well I think it could be. It wouldn’t be number one. I mean, number one would be trade. Number one would be Obamacare repealing and replacing, strengthening up the military, taking care of our vets. We have a lot of things.

We have things — we could talk all day long about things we have to do, but campaign finance reform, it certainly would be something that we could talk about. And I think more than anything else it’s transparency. I mean there should be total transparency, so that if somebody is going to do something — and I think one of the reasons I’m so high in the polls is because everyone knows that all of the lobbyists, many of which I employ, and used to employ, and I know many of them, but they have tremendous power over — in fact in with the Kochs I called it puppets.

And they have tremendous power over these candidates. And I’m not just talking about Koch. I’m talking about lobbyists. I’m talking about special interests. I’m talking about donors. And I was one of the big donors. I mean I know the system better than probably almost anybody, almost as well as you guys would know the system. But you have tremendous power, when you give money — especially when you give substantial money, over the candidates.

And a lot of times those candidates will do things, fellows, that are very bad for the country, but they’re good for the company that the power group represents.

The Corner

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