According to The Washington Post, the progressive economic think tank Donald Trump repeatedly cited during a recent speech on his trade policy agenda is slamming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for distorting the facts and ignoring other initiatives that would boost the economy -- all in an attempt to “scam” hard-working Americans.
During a June 28 speech at a metal recycling facility in Monessen, PA, Trump outlined a trade and manufacturing policy agenda that draws heavily from research performed by the progressive Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent was first to report that EPI president Lawrence Mishel rebuked Trump’s agenda for misleading the public on globalization and wage stagnation -- by blaming our trade policies for flat wages and fewer jobs -- while ignoring progressive initiatives like lifting the minimum wage, expanding overtime protections, and increasing union membership (emphasis added):
So it’s worth noting that the EPI — in a lengthy statement sent my way — now says that Trump’s account of what has happened to American workers in recent decades is simplistic in the extreme; that Trump is actually a lot more friendly to GOP economic orthodoxy than most observers have noted; and that Trump’s actual prescriptions fall laughably short of what needs to be done to help those workers.
Trump boasted in his speech that “under a Trump presidency, the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them,” and repeatedly accused Clinton and other politicians supported by financial elites of “betraying” American workers by prioritizing globalization over their interests.
But Lawrence Mishel, the president of the EPI, sent me a critique of the speech. Mishel noted that Trump’s account suggests that only government officials — particularly the Clinton administration and Democrats who supported trade deals such as NAFTA — are to blame for flat wages. He argued that Trump conspicuously left out the role of Republicans in this whole tale, as well as the business community’s use of its power to keep wages down and erode countervailing power on the part of labor.
As Sargent and Mishel note, Trump has appropriated a populist tone on international free trade agreements, but his other stated positions on tax and economic policy decidedly favor the corporatist right wing. The incongruity of Trump’s positions led Mishel to conclude his response by labeling Trump’s speech for what it was: “a scam.”
For months, Media Matters has documented how media have tended to gloss over Trump’s extremist positions with a misleading “populist” veneer. According to reports, his top economic policy advisers are discredited right-wing pundits Stephen Moore and Larry Kudlow -- known for their strict adherence to trickle-down economics, their willingness to distort reality for political gain, and their rank professional incompetence. Last September, right-wing media falsely labeled Trump’s tax reform plans a “populist” agenda when it was actually a budget-busting giveaway to the rich that wilted upon closer inspection. In April, experts slammed Trump’s proposal to eliminate the national debt in just eight years as “impossible” and “psychotic.” In May, Trump was criticized for his “insane” plan to default on U.S. federal debt, and then for his “disastrous” suggestion that the U.S. could solve its long-term debt problems by printing money.
Even in the case of free trade, Trump’s rhetoric may be populist, but experts and media critics argue that his positions are untenable. As CNN’s Ali Velshi pointed on during the June 29 edition of New Day, Trump’s attempt to solely blame the Clinton administration for jobs lost to globalization was “highly dishonest.” On the May 6 edition of New Day, CNN analyst Rana Foroohar slammed Trump’s nascent trade agenda as being “either a bad idea, or impossible.” (Furthermore, Trump’s penchant for comparing trade deals to the horrifying violence of “rape” leaves him far outside the rational mainstream of political discourse.)
As Sargent noted, Trump’s June 28 policy speech seemed to be an attempt “to stake out positions on trade and wages that are … perhaps even to the left of Hillary Clinton and Democrats.” MSNBC political reporter Benjy Sarlin and Fortune politics writer Ben Geier both argued in June 29 articles that the speech was an overt attempt by the GOP front-runner to court supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the runner-up in the Democratic presidential primary. Trump even quoted a common refrain from Sanders’ own stump speeches during a series of attacks on Clinton, saying she “voted for virtually every trade agreement that has cost the workers of this country millions, millions of jobs” -- a claim that PolitiFact labels as “half true” at best.
Given his previous extremist economic positions, Trump’s statements on trade -- which were chided by both the right-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce and left-leaning labor unions including the AFL-CIO -- seem to be born not of conviction, but rather of expedience.