From last night’s debate:
STRASSEL: Mr. Trump, you have made a lot of promises and you have also— you’re the only candidate who has said he would not touch entitlements. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated that your ideas would cost an additional $12 trillion to $15 trillion over the next 10 years and that we would have to have annual economic growth of anywhere from 7.7 percent to 9 percent annually to pay for them. Are you proposing more than you can actually deliver, at least not without big deficits?
TRUMP: First of all, the— when you say I’m the only candidate, if you listen to the Democrats, they want to do many things to Social Security. And I want to do them on its own merit. You listen to them, what they want to do to Social Security, none of these folks are getting elected, whether they can do it or not. I’m going to save Social Security. I’m going to bring jobs back from China. I’m going to bring jobs back from Mexico and Japan, where every country throughout the world— now Vietnam, that’s the new one— they are taking our jobs. They’re taking our wealth. They are taking our base. And you and I have had this discussion. We’re going to make our economy strong again. I’m lowering taxes. We have $2.5 trillion offshore that I think is 5 trillion because the government has no idea what they say 2.5, they have no idea what they’re doing or saying, as they’ve proven very well. We’re going to bring that money back. You take a look at what happened just this week, China bought the Chicago Stock Exchange, China, a Chinese company. A carrier is moving to Mexico, an air conditioning company. Nabisco and Ford— they’re all moving out. We have an economy that last quarter G.D.P., didn’t grow. It was flat. We have to make our economy grow again. We’re dying. This country is dying. And our workers are losing their jobs, and you’re going— I’m the only one who is going to save Social Security, believe me.
STRASSEL: OK, but how would you actually do that? Can I ask you? Because right now Social Security and Medicare take up two-thirds of the budget. [This is a serious exaggeration. Together they take up about two-thirds of mandatory spending, which is far less than two-thirds of the budget as a whole]
TRUMP: You have tremendous waste, fraud, and abuse. That we’re taking care of. That we’re taking care of. It’s tremendous. We have in Social Security right now thousand and thousands of people that are over 106 years old. Now, you know they don’t exist. They don’t exist. There’s tremendous waste, fraud, and abuse, and we’re going to get it. But we’re not going to hurt the people who have been paying into Social Security their whole life and then all of a sudden they’re supposed to get less. We’re going to bring our jobs back and we’re going to make our economy great again.
Yes Trump is a master manipulator of the contemporary media, but he’s also got another big edge on his GOP rivals: his policy positions are much more popular than theirs with the vast majority of voters, including Republican voters.
Cutting Social Security is a wildly unpopular position with the American public as a whole. It is, however, a very popular position within the upper reaches of the plutocracy, which calls the tune to which the rest of the GOP field dances.
Now of course the details of Trump’s “vision” as he (speaking loosely) articulated it last night consist largely of demagogic nonsense, but underneath the xenophobic ranting is a coherent political position: don’t cut Social Security benefits. That is a winning message, for the very old-fashioned reason that it is the preferred position of a very large majority of American voters, although admittedly it does not command a current majority among New York billionaires with active presidential ambitions.