President Donald Trump is doing exactly what he said he would do as president. Whether his actions align with what one might expect from a traditional Republican president is another question altogether.
Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal spoke with David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush and Senior Editor for The Atlantic, about the ways Trump differs from a traditional Republican president. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: How much of what the president is doing on the economic front is within a standard deviation of what we might expect from a Republican White House?
David Frum: Well of what the administration as a whole is doing – a fair bit. You would expect any Republican president to, for example, reopen the Keystone pipeline and the same thing for the pipeline running through Dakota. Making sure that those things go forward. Very standard. The big tax cut that is surely coming. That’s a classic Republican thing too.
Ryssdal: What about the federal budget, and his infrastructure plan and the contest that he will surely have with Republicans in congress over the debt and deficit?
Frum: Trump clearly does not care very much about deficits. As a businessman, the secret of his success was borrowing a lot of money and not paying it back and he has often recommended that strategy to the United States. Borrow a lot of money and if things are difficult you persuade the creditors to accept less in return.
Ryssdal: And that’s a whole other discussion about the sanctity of the federal debt but we’re not going to go there…
Frum: Right! But if you are someone who believes you can get away with not paying the debt back in full, well, why wouldn’t you want to borrow a lot? But joking aside, the Republican party, sort of, gets off side, and then it gets in trouble and then it remembers that the American social insurance state is here to stay and has to be made to work and you cannot indulge these fantasies that you are going to build an Ayn Rand republic in a modern democracy. You’re not going to do that. So just stop wasting time telling your core supporters that you’re going to try. Make the social insurance state work in a moderate way and in a fiscally responsible way. The Trump cabinet — secretary of the Treasury, secretary of the Interior, those kinds of officials, the Senate-confirmed people — is shaping up in most cases as relatively normal. It’s in the White House where they are not Senate-confirmed that you got the Star Wars Cantina scene.
Ryssdal: Where is the risk of normalizing the out of standard deviation behavior by looking at this stuff and saying this is to be expected?
Frum: I would suggest a different way of thinking about it. For those of you who are inclined to oppose Donald Trump, you need to remember it’s a two-party system. The party that you don’t like is going to win elections approximately half the time. And when they win, they are going to do things that you don’t like. And that’s democracy. And that’s part of making sure the ship of state steers a steady course. You don’t steer on a straight line — you tack left, you tack right and thus hope to find your way. So if Donald Trump is doing something that a President Rubio or President Bush or a President Walker or even a President Cruz would do, you don’t have to like it, but it’s also not something to set your hair on fire for. The things to set your hair on fire for are the things that President Bush or Walker or Rubio or Cruz would never ever do. What they would never do is make threats against particular companies. What they would not do is use the office of the presidency to enrich themselves and what they certainly would not do is try to use the instruments of the state to suppress criticism and conceal their own wrongdoing.