Candidate Evaluations: Donald Trump

by Benjamin Studebaker

Donald Trump is running for president. A few people have told me I shouldn’t do an evaluation for Trump, that to write one for him treats him with a level of seriousness he’s not entitled to. But here’s the deal folks–as of late May and early June, Donald Trump polls at 4% among republican primary voters. That may not sound like a lot, but he has roughly twice as many supporters as George Pataki, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, or Rick Santorum. In some polls, he also tops Rick Perry. And as we’ve seen over the course of this series, there are a great many serious candidates for president who have said outlandish things or taken reactionary positions. So I’m going to do an evaluation for Trump, because he really isn’t that much crazier or that much less popular than many of the republican candidates I’ve already done. Before we begin, here’s a quick reminder of what we’re doing. I’ll be evaluating Trump’s background, policy history, and explicit statements to determine whether or not he would make a good president. I won’t be paying attention to electability or likeability, as is often common elsewhere on the web.

For fans of the evaluations series, here are all the other ones we’ve done in the order we did them:

This is Donald Trump:

Trump has a BS in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania, the Ivy League School. Trump is a real estate magnate–his net worth is estimated at somewhere between $4.1 and $8.7 billion. He’s also the executive producer and host of The Apprentice, a reality TV program. He has never held any political office of any kind, though he has considered running for president many times, including 1988, 2000, 2004, 2012, and in this upcoming election. He also considered runs for governor of New York in 2006 and 2014. Despite his lack of experience and his reputation for off the cuff, id-driven statements (his nearest British analogue has to be London Mayor Boris Johnson), Trump has occasionally attracted serious interest. In 2011, he briefly led all republican candidates in the polls, including eventual 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. He also tied for 6th on Gallup’s 2011 list of most admired men.

Like Ben Carson, Trump has no voting record, no gubernatorial record, no history of political decision-making on which to base his evaluation, so we have to pay extra close attention to his explicit statements. Here’s what we’ve got:

In Time to Get Tough: Making America Great Again, Trump outlines his economic policy agenda:

If we want jobs in America, we need to enact my 5-part tax policy: kill the death tax; lower the tax rates on capital gains & dividends; eliminate corporate taxes in order to create more American jobs; mandate a 15% tax for outsourcing jobs and a 20% tax for importing goods, and enact the 1-5-10-15 income tax plan.

The “1-5-10-15” refers to Trump’s proposed tax rates on his four different brackets. There is a lot wrong with this. For one, his tax rates are much too small to make up for all the revenue Trump gives up by eliminating estate and corporate taxes and well as reducing rates on capital gains. Even assuming that Trump were to eliminate tax loopholes so that his 1-5-10-15 marginal rates really did reflect the effective tax rates, those numbers are far short of the effective rates that have been paid in recent years. For instance, in 2011, everyone paid higher effective rates of tax than Trump is proposing:

The tax cuts Trump proposes are highest for those at the top of the distribution, so Trump’s plan would also increase economic inequalities. To offset the reduction in revenue, Trump proposes sweeping austerity. He claims that the cuts passed during the sequestration fight are not nearly enough. What would Trump cut? It’s hard to say. He has not been very specific about it, but he has consistently over the years made many statements in opposition to welfare and public assistance, so we can safely presume that the poor would be targeted.

Now, all of this sounds quite right wing and extreme, but I want to point something out–the 1-5-10-15 plan is much more moderate than the flat tax and fair tax plans other republican candidates have proposed. Flat tax and fair tax are extremely regressive policies, they make 1-5-10-15 look downright socialist by comparison. Don’t get me wrong, 1-5-10-15 is an awful plan, but it isn’t as bad as the plans Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson have proposed. On economic issues, Donald Trump is a better candidate than all of those people. That doesn’t say much, but it does say something. Rubio and Carson poll competitively with Jeb Bush.

Trump is against cutting social security and Medicare, and he supports some gun control policies. He’s not the most right wing person in this race, and there are candidates who are less reasonable than he is who are more popular and taken more seriously. He doesn’t really care about social issues, changing his position on abortion and homosexuality to suit whatever his audience wants to hear. He’s goes too far with the indiscriminate tax hike on imports, but he does seem to realize that making American workers compete for jobs against wage slaves in developing countries is a losing proposition and that free trade deals should be subjected to scrutiny.

But then there’s stuff like this:

This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice

And this:

Everything about Obamacare is a lie, a filthy lie.

Nevermind the piles of evidence that Obamacare works. And on immigration, he’s flat-out bonkers:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

The CBO has confirmed that immigrants from Latin America actually save the government money (about $19,000 per decade per immigrant):

But even with all of that, he’s still capable of making the right noises about Iraq:

We should have never been there in the first place. We should not go back. The problem with going back, and even being there, is the day we leave somebody else is going to take over.

Yet he makes the wrong noises about Iran:

Take a look at the deal he’s making with Iran. If he makes that deal, Israel maybe won’t exist very long. It’s a disaster.

Israel has an independent nuclear deterrent, so the idea that any country could pose an existential threat to it displays sweeping ignorance of the history of nuclear weapons.

And then there’s his role in the ridiculous birther conspiracy theory, which alleges that Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya and therefore is not legally qualified to be president. Said Trump:

He doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that. Or he may not have one. But I will tell you this. If he wasn’t born in this country, it’s one of the great scams of all time.

Today, he’s saying similar things about Ted Cruz:

He was born in Canada … if you know … and when we all studied our history lessons … you’re supposed to be born in this country, so I just don’t know how the courts would rule on it. But it’s an additional hurdle that he has that no one else seems to have.


Donald Trump claims to believe a lot of things that a reasonable person cannot believe. Maybe he plays it up as some kind of strategy, maybe it’s genuine. I don’t know. What I can tell you is that the explicit policies he has called for are not good policies, and that he shouldn’t be president. But you probably knew that before you started reading this piece. Odds are, you came here hoping to have a laugh at Trump’s expense, and that’s fine. But I want to make it absolutely clear–Donald Trump is not the worst candidate I have reviewed. There are a number of republican candidates that are worse than he is. Some of them have more support than he has, and some of them are taken much more seriously by the media. Some of them have been governors and senators, and yet the policies they have proposed are even more reactionary, id-driven, and lunatic. When I started writing this evaluation, I didn’t know this, and I doubt you knew it before you read this. The media is doing a spectacularly pathetic and inept job of keeping us informed about what these people believe and what the consequences of those beliefs might be if they become policies. Shame on us all for having a society in which you can be more unreasonable than Donald Trump and become a governor, a senator, or even a semi-serious candidate for president. Shame. Shame. Shame.


Donald Trump has since released a new and different tax plan. It’s regressive and does not raise sufficient revenue, but it’s not quite as nutty as the 1-5-10-15 plan. I discuss it in detail here.