Can Donald Trump Get Away With Proposing to Destroy the US Government?

Today the Wall Street Journal asks a vital question:

Donald Trump’s Plans Don’t Add Up. Do Voters Care?

Oh please. Bernie Sanders’ plans don’t add up and his followers couldn’t care less. Paul Ryan’s plans don’t add up. Republicans don’t care. Mitt Romney’s plans didn’t add up. No one cared. John McCain’s plans didn’t add up. No one cared. George Bush’s plans didn’t add up. No one cared. Ronald Reagan’s plans didn’t add up. No one cared.

Now, I admit that Trump is performing a destruction test on this theory. His tax plan blows a $9.5 trillion hole in the deficit and he plans to increase spending on infrastructure and national defense and he promises not to touch Medicare or Social Security. He claims he’ll make up for this by cutting “waste, fraud, and abuse,” and I suppose one could view this as the ultimate test of just how much waste, fraud, and abuse the public thinks the American government is responsible for. Unfortunately, the historical evidence probably doesn’t favor a rational answer.

So what does Trump’s budget look like? Someone must care, after all. At no small effort, I have created the colorful chart below. I used the CBO’s projections as my baseline. Trump says he wants to balance the budget, so that puts a firm cap on overall spending. He says he wants to spend more on defense, so I added a modest $20 billion per year to the baseline projection. He says he won’t touch Social Security or Medicare, so I left those at their baseline projections. The revenue number comes from TPC’s analysis of Trump’s tax plan. Ditto for the interest number. Trump says he wants to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure, so I bumped up the current infrastructure budget by $100 billion and carried it through each year.

As you can see, by the end of eight years, not only are we spending zero dollars on nearly every government program, but infrastructure spending is also wiped out and we can make only a fraction of our interest payments:

So yeah, you could say this doesn’t add up. Or you could say it’s more of Trump’s usual buffoonery. Or that Donald Trump couldn’t care less about the federal budget. So why doesn’t this get more attention? Let’s take a series of guesses:

  • Most people find numbers confusing and boring. One trillion, ten trillion, whatever.
  • The press shies away from focusing on stuff like this because their readers find it confusing and boring and don’t read it.
  • Also because they routinely give Republicans a pass on this stuff. They figure it’s mostly just routine pandering, and all politicians do it.
  • In any case, the public takes tax and budget plans mostly as statements of values, not as things that will ever actually happen.

So there you have it. Trump is testing whether he can get away with literally proposing a tax and budget plan that would bankrupt the country and destroy nearly the entire federal government within just a few years. What do you think?


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