Politics & Policy

The Wind at His Back, His Foot in His Mouth

Trump speaks at a campaign event in Green Bay, Wisc., August 6, 2016. (Reuters photo: Eric Thayer)
His agenda could resonate with voters. His habit of changing the subject to petty issues is self-defeating.

The wind is at Trump’s back. After a week of a devastating Clinton combo of condescension, frailty, and deceit, the polls began to turn around.

The RealClearPolitics average has Clinton up by just 1.5 points nationally. The latest state polls show Trump ahead in the battleground states of Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, and Florida, tied in North Carolina, and within 3 points of Hillary in Michigan and Virginia. FiveThirtyEight now gives Trump a 1-in-3 chance of winning the election if it were held today. But the election is not being held today, and momentum is a powerful force in politics.

With this wind at his back, I watched Trump give a potentially powerful economic speech, laying out a devastating critique of the Democrats’ acceptance of wage stagnation, slo-mo growth, erosion of manufacturing, and failure to spend the $800 billion stimulus in ways that would restore the American infrastructure.

Trump summed his case up in a devastating line that should be the headline all across the country this morning. Pointing to Flint, Mich., where Ford has just announced it was moving all small-car production to Mexico, Trump declared: “It used to be cars were made in Flint and you couldn’t drink the water in Mexico. Now, the cars are made in Mexico and you can’t drink the water in Flint.” It is one of the great lines of political theater.

Trump may have gotten a lot of things wrong in this speech, but he got two big things right. He promised American voters he would put the interests of Americans and American workers first. And, Trump firmly, fabulously, and resolutely rejected the Democrats’ increasing economic pessimism, summed up by the multiple prophets of “secular stagnation.”

“We are going to turn this around,” Trump promises:

My economic plan rejects the cynicism that says our labor force will keep declining, that our jobs will keep leaving, and that our economy can never grow as it did once before.

We reject the pessimism that says our standard of living can no longer rise, and that all that’s left to do is divide up and redistribute our shrinking resources.

Everything that is broken today can be fixed, and every failure can be turned into a great success.

What is standing between us and that glorious Trumpian paradise? Trump does what any political leader must do, he names an enemy — a bipartisan enemy endorsed by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats as well as by Chamber of Commerce Republicans and libertarians. The enemy, he says, is globalism, which has replaced patriotism: “All of these things, and so much more, are possible. But to accomplish them, we must replace the present policy of globalism, which has moved so many jobs and so much wealth out of our country, and replace it with a new policy of Americanism.” Yes, this is a simplistic explanation for a complex problem, but it at least gives voters an explanation for the fact that they have not seen a wage increase in close to a decade or more, even if the latest welcome bump in median household income is real.

RELATED: Trump the Shape Shifter

Trump names five specific policy avenues for reversing stagnant wages and restoring economic growth: pro-worker tax cuts (including corporate-tax cuts), ending job-killing regulations, embracing American energy, and renegotiating NAFTA and other trade deals to favor American interests, plus more government spending for gleaming infrastructure projects for builders like him that create jobs for people who make things with their hands. He tells steel workers and coal miners, specifically, that he’s going to put them back to work.

This is a new ideological package: massive new government spending, beloved by Harvard economist Larry Summers, for example, as the cure for secular stagnation, combined with supply-side tax and regulatory reductions, pro-family tax credits (including a new paid maternity-leave benefit available to stay-at-home mothers), with that special sauce of Trump — that threatening a trade war would bring back American jobs.

I like about half of what he says, but I think that American voters are going to find it resonates.

RELATED: Trump’s Fatal Flaw

I was about to write a column on what great strides Trump had made since replacing Paul Manafort with his new team, particularly Kellyanne Conway. Rather than following the standard GOP political pro’s advice of moderating his views and moving to the center, Conway and Bannon appear to have persuaded Trump of a more important truth: With less than two months to the election, he cannot afford to be training his fire on anyone but Hillary Clinton.

You could see the effect of this advice on a man whose normal rule is: Respond to all critics with a nuclear counterattack, a rule that produced Trump’s awful, and politically asinine, attacks on a Muslim Gold Star family — and a huge Clinton lead. The barrage of attacks on extraneous critics has mostly disappeared.

You could see the effect of this new advice when a Flint pastor interrupted Trump when he began to criticize Hillary. Trump, in the moment, tried to turn the other cheek, accepting the redirection. But he could not quite let it go the next morning. It wasn’t an attack on an African-American pastor, by any normal Trump standard, but it still produced a media narrative that didn’t help him. Weirder, Trump apparently so lacked faith in his striking economic message, he decided to let his hair become the news on the Jimmy Fallon show.

Neither of these is a real issue, compared with the question of what we must do to interrupt secular stagnation and restore a growing economy for American families.

#related#Trump is right that Hillary Clinton’s plan is more of a status quo that isn’t working out very well. “The only people who get rich under Hillary Clinton’s scheme are the donors and the special interests,” Trump said. Under what he calls his “American System,” by contrast, “every policy decision we make must pass a simple test: Does it create more jobs and better wages for Americans? If we lower our taxes, remove destructive regulations, unleash the vast treasure of American energy, and negotiate trade deals that put America first, then there is no limit to the number of jobs we can create and the amount of prosperity we can unleash.”

I’m not sure this is true. But it is far more important than his testosterone or the question of President Obama’s birthplace. Why is Trump competing with Trump for national attention?

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