Donald Trump doesn’t really have policy positions these days. He has policy moods. Humors. Flirtations, perhaps. He’s revised his stance on the minimum wage, obliquely suggested that he’d maybe consider defaulting on the U.S. debt before walking it back, and asked for assistance rewriting his tax plan. Now it appears he’s getting a little wobbly on entitlements.
Throughout his campaign, Trump has promised not to cut Social Security and Medicare. This has been smart and fruitful. The only people who get excited about entitlement reform are crusty think-tankers and wealthy Republican donors who want lower taxes. Actual living, breathing voters, especially the older ones who show up for GOP primaries, don’t want to see their retirement benefits slashed.
You would think that having conquered the Republican Party while rejecting one of its most cherished yet least popular policy obsessions, Trump would stay the course against Hillary Clinton. After all, he has said outright that anybody who promises to tear the stuffing out of Medicare and Social Security will “lose the election.” Donald Trump does not like to lose. Not one bit.
And yet! On Wednesday, at an event in Washington, Trump’s chief policy adviser Sam Clovis suggested that the candidate would, in fact, be open to curbing entitlements if his $10 trillion in proposed tax cuts didn’t somehow supercharge growth enough to create a budget surplus. “After the administration has been in place, then we will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We’ll start taking a hard look at those to start seeing what we can do in a bipartisan way.” Clovis later explained that a Trump administration wouldn’t start slicing and dicing immediately, “because we can’t predict the growth” from tax cuts. However, he added that, “We have to start taking a look not just at Medicare and Social Security but every program we have out there, because the budgetary discipline that we’ve shown over the last 84 years has been horrible.”
Has Trump really had a Paul-Ryan-on-the-Road-to-Damascus moment and decided he wants to cut Social Security down to size? I don’t know. His campaign seems worried about the story, considering that his typically taciturn spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, told the Journal it had not in fact heard what it obviously heard. “Sam Clovis did not remotely suggest anything having to do with cuts,” she said. “I read his statements as though we need to examine budgetary discipline to protect programs like Social Security and Medicare, which is exactly what Mr. Trump intends to do.” Still, much like his decision to solicit tax policy advice from some of the conservative establishment’s favorite supply-side hacks, this suggests that Trump and his people really are worried about party (and perhaps donor) support and are thus trying to make him a slightly more palatable, traditional GOP candidate.
But anyway, there’s probably nothing to worry about. Clovis says that Trump’s policies, including the tax cuts, are going to create a $7 trillion budget surplus. Everything’s gonna be cool, guys.