Trump embraces role of renegade

Trump embraces role of renegade
© Greg Nash

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDACA recipient claims Trump is holding ‘immigrant youth hostage’ amid quest for wall Lady Gaga blasts Pence as ‘worst representation of what it means to be Christian’ We have a long history of disrespecting Native Americans and denying their humanity MORE has been flying in the face of political orthodoxy since he began his presidential campaign, but there are mounting questions about whether that approach might ultimately bring him down to earth.

Some of Trump’s proposals mesh comfortably with conservative populism, notably his hard line on illegal immigration and his insistence that the United States needs to strike better trade deals.

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But at other times, the businessman seems to set his course against the prevailing winds of conservative opinion. During an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday, for example, he appeared to support some form of universal healthcare, saying, “Everybody’s got to be covered.” 

And when Trump released his tax plan on Monday, he stressed its advantages for people with modest incomes and its potentially negative impact on the super-rich. 

Such policy proposals go hand in hand with a willingness to lambaste people or institutions other Republican candidates are courting, from Fox News to the conservative donors David and Charles Koch.

“He’s completely one of a kind,” said Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway. “The fact that he is unorthodox is part of his appeal. Americans — although they are in fact intractable creatures of habit — fancy themselves as independent, unorthodox renegades who can’t be placed in a box. And they recognize that Donald Trump lives outside of the box.”

But Conway and others noted that Trump’s renegade ways could have a political downside. In the eyes of some skeptics, the  “60 Minutes” interview was a prime example. Pressed by Scott Pelley on whether he would enact universal healthcare as president, Trump responded, “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not.” 

He added moments later that “the government’s going to pay for it,”  though he insisted that he, as president, would be able to strike such favorable deals with hospitals that “we’re going to save so much money.”

“That would hurt him down here,” said David Woodard, a political science professor at South Carolina’s Clemson University who is also a GOP strategist. “Among Republicans, ObamaCare is the first issue they mention. Now, he might say he is going to replace ObamaCare. But the point is that he favors government healthcare. That is where he is going to be vulnerable.”

Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told The Hill that the candidate “has been very clear that he is not in favor of ObamaCare” or a single-payer system but added that “he is going to make sure that people who need healthcare have the ability to have coverage. You can’t just kick people off the rolls.”

The release of Trump’s tax plan on Monday seemed designed in part to rebut criticism that his campaign is light on specifics. While the plan does not fit cozily into an ideological template — it would exempt more middle-class people from paying any federal income taxes but also cuts the top tax rate dramatically — Trump stressed that it would have benefits for the “little guy.”

“We’re reducing taxes, but believe me, there will be people in the very upper echelon that won’t be thrilled with this,” he said at a news conference.

His willingness to take on some members of the top tax bracket, of which he is a member, is consistent with the rhetoric Trump has offered during his campaign. 

“I want the hedge fund guys to pay more taxes,” he told CNN last month in Tennessee.

“The hedge fund guys are getting away with murder,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” also last month.

Trump has also pledged that his tax plan would exempt more than 50 percent of households from paying any federal income tax. While around 45 percent of households pay no such tax already, Trump’s attitude seems to represent a shift from the approach of the most recent GOP presidential nominee.

“The whole thing about the tax proposal is him talking about everyone under a certain amount paying zero dollars,” said Michael Bowen, the author of “The Roots of Modern Conservatism” and a visiting assistant professor at John Carroll University. “But the very thing that [Mitt] Romney got crucified for was about how he was upset that 47 percent of people were not paying taxes. Trump wants to codify what Romney railed against.”

Trump’s sporadic feuds with Fox News are also deeply unusual for a Republican candidate and riskier than his attacks on establishment figures such as Karl Rove and George Will.

“It’s a gamble,” Conway said. “It’s a gamble not just because people will say, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s a gamble because Fox News is powerful, and you want people to hear your message.”

Lewandowski, like his boss, is unrepentant. Asked about the disputes with Fox News, he said Trump “will stand up to anybody, at any time, when he feels he is not being treated fairly. Whether that is a politician, or whether that is the media, he will not back down.”

Lewandowski balked at the description of Trump as a “populist.” But he left little doubt that, for better or worse, the candidate won’t be changing his approach anytime soon.

“I don’t think it’s any big thing to point out that Mr. Trump is not the establishment candidate in this race,” he said wryly. “But if you look at establishment candidates, they have failed our country time and time again. … We have got stupid people running the country.”

Noting the apparent affection for Trump among working- and middle-class Republicans, Lewandowski added, “Those rich, country-club people are not supporting Trump. They’re supporting the establishment figures like Jeb Bush or Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioWashington fears new threat from 'deepfake' videos Overnight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal MORE.”