Donald Trump’s official tax plan would withdraw $4 trillion from the federal coffers over the next ten years and deposit them into the bank accounts of the one percent. But on Sunday, the presumptive GOP nominee appeared to disown that plan, going from Ayn Rand to Bernie Sanders in 30 seconds flat.
“For the wealthy, I think, frankly, it’s going to go up,” Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd, in response to a question about his tax cuts. “And you know what? It really should go up.” On ABC’s This Week, Trump reiterated that sentiment, saying, "I am willing to pay more, and you know what? The wealthy are willing to pay more.”
Asked to explain the discrepancy between his normative judgment — taxes on the wealthy should go up — and his tax-shredding plan, Trump replied, “by the time it gets negotiated, it’s going to be a different plan.”
Thus, to all ears it sounded like:
1. Trump had pulled off one of the great post-primary flip-flops of all time.
2. He plans to negotiate with Congress as a parent would with a 4-year-old who won’t eat his asparagus — using reverse psychology. (“No, House Freedom Caucus, you can’t raise taxes on the rich until you’ve eaten your ice cream.” “But Reagan got to raise taxes! No fair.”)
But on CNN Monday morning, Trump said his remarks had been misrepresented.
“Let me just set it straight. I put in the biggest tax decrease of anyone running for office by far,” the Donald told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “And that really is a proposal because we have to go to Congress … I said I may have to increase it on the wealthy. I’m not going to allow it to be increased on the middle class. Now, if I increase on the wealthy, that means they’re still going to being paying less than they pay now. I’m not talking about increasing from this point. I’m talking about increasing from my tax proposal. And Chuck Todd understood that, totally.”
That may sound like Trump deploying a classic little trick of media management that insiders call “lying.” But, in fact, there was a moment in his Meet the Press interview where Trump revealed his nuanced understanding of the phrase “pay a little bit more.”
DONALD TRUMP: The rich [are] probably going to end up paying more. And business might have to pay a little bit more. But we’re giving a massive business tax cut. Remember this, we’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. But this is a tax— Chuck, this is a tax proposal—
CHUCK TODD: Wait a minute. Let me stop you there. You just said, “Businesses might pay a little bit more.” You just said, “Business might pay a little bit more, but we’re going to get ‘em a massive tax cut.” You just said it within ten words.
DONALD TRUMP: No, no. I didn’t say it. Excuse me. I said they might have to pay a little bit more than my proposal, Chuck. I said they might have—
CHUCK TODD: Oh, your proposal. Okay. I just wanted to get that clear.
So Trump does not want to compound the oppression of our long-suffering job creators. He simply didn’t understand how most people would interpret the phrase “taxes for the rich will go up.”
But even if these Sunday interviews don’t contradict the essence of his tax platform, they still undermine the essence of his political persona: What kind of expert deal-maker tells the other side — before negotiations have even begun — that he’s asking for more than he actually wants? The whole point of making an extreme opening offer is to frame your desired compromise as a major concession. But now Trump has established that even he doesn’t want what he’s asking for in terms of tax cuts for the wealthy. Essentially, Trump has walked into the used-car lot and said, “I’ll pay $3,000 for that Ford Taurus. But I’m going to end up paying a little bit more. And I should pay more.”
To be fair to Trump, he did display sharper negotiating skills at the top of his CNN interview Monday morning, when he refused to answer any questions until Chris Cuomo congratulated him for a second time for winning the Republican primary.