Donald Trump has attracted attention for being the rare Republican who doesn’t promise to cut Social Security. But that doesn’t mean you should trust him on Social Security.
And his comments in Thursday night’s debate about Social Security display the usual ideological incoherence and weasel words we’ve come to expect from Trump.
Trump was given a loaded question from CNN’s Dana Bash: “Social Security is projected to run out of money within 20 years. So specifically, what would you do to stop that from happening?”
(The premise is misleading: Social Security trustees have an “intermediate projection” that the trust fund’s “reserves” would be depleted by 2034, but that doesn’t mean the program “runs out of money” because payroll tax revenue always comes in, though it would mean benefit cuts. Furthermore, the trustees offer two other projections using different economic assumptions, including one in which the trust fund is solvent for at least 75 years.)
Trump begins his answer by first taking a swipe at Democrats for wanting to either leave Social Security alone or benefits:
Well, first of all, I want you to understand that the Democrats, and I’ve watched them very intensely, even though it’s a very, very boring thing to watch, that the Democrats are doing nothing with Social Security. They’re leaving it the way it is. In fact, they want to increase it. They want to actually give more. And that’s what we’re up against. And whether we like it or not, that is what we’re up against.
Then, literally playing on both sides of the fence, Trump seemingly embraces the same position to reject Social Security benefit cuts. But note the qualifiers [emphasis added]:
I will do everything within my power not to touch Social Security, to leave it the way it is; to make this country rich again; to bring back our jobs; to get rid of deficits; to get rid of waste, fraud and abuse, which is rampant in this country, rampant, totally rampant. And it’s my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not increase the [retirement] age and to leave it as is. You have 22 [sic] years, you have a long time to go. It’s not long in terms of what we’re talking about, but it’s still a long time to go, and I want to leave Social Security as is, I want to make our country rich again so we can afford it. I want to bring back our jobs [and] bring back GDP.
Note that the “everything within my power” is not premised on the constitutional power of a president to veto legislation. It’s “everything within my power” to improve the economy which also helps improve the trust fund’s solvency. Trump, of course, has no plan to improve the economy beyond his own bluster, so that’s not terribly reassuring.
And expressing your “intention” to do something is classic politician-speak. Everyone knows it means you can reverse course later on the grounds that circumstances changed.
Trump is a panderer extraordinaire. He knows voters want to hear that their Social Security won’t be cut, so that’s what he tells them. He also knows that there are conservatives suspicious of that view, so he panders to them as well. Finally, he assures he will make everyone happy by making the economy the great, without bothering to show he knows the first thing about making an economy great.
This is Exhibit A in the Donald Trump con.