Donald Trump sought to move beyond a week of turmoil Monday, using a major policy address to cast himself as a president who could bring new jobs and prosperity and warning that his rival, Hillary Clinton, would be a steward of stagnation.
“I want to jump-start America, and it won’t even be that hard,” the Republican nominee said in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club.
Saying he wanted “a conversation about how to make America great again for everyone, and especially those who have the very least,” Trump unveiled plans to simplify the tax system, rethink America’s energy policy and tear up trade agreements.
Trump chose Detroit as his backdrop, and his speech — though interrupted frequently by protesters — was clearly chosen to appeal to the working-class Americans who are at the center of his political strategy.
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It offered a broad view of what the economic agenda of a President Trump would look like: Tax policies that track closely with what Republicans in Congress have long advocated, including deep tax cuts for the wealthy and a light touch in regulation, but much more willingness to disrupt long-standing trade agreements and international economic relationships in hopes of reducing the trade deficit.
He embraced a tax plan issued by House Republicans this year that, although it would reduce taxes on all Americans, would offer particularly lucrative tax cuts for the affluent: It would reduce the tax rate on the highest earners to 33 percent, from the current 39.6 percent.
He also called for ending what Republicans label the “death tax.” He did not mention that the estate tax currently exempts the first $5.45 million for an individual and $10.9 million for a married couple — meaning that only the very wealthy pay anything.
If Trump’s net worth is as large as he has said, his heirs would have a great deal to gain from eliminating the estate tax; the typical displaced steelworker or coal miner, or even a relatively prosperous retiree, would have nothing to gain.
Trump also advocated “allowing parents to fully deduct the average cost of child-care spending from their taxes.” That might sound like a gain for average workers, but the way the tax code works, it would confer the greatest advantage to upper middle-class and wealthier families, and little to no benefit for vast numbers of low-income families.
For a family making $500,000 that spends $10,000 a year on child care, the tax deduction would be worth about $3,960. For a family that earns $50,000, because it faces a lower tax rate, it would be worth only $1,500. And many lower- and lower-middle-income families pay little or no federal income tax, so a tax deduction wouldn’t help them.
In the speech and written materials distributed by his campaign, Trump mentioned only a tax deduction. But an emailed statement from his campaign Monday afternoon said the policy would also have elements to provide child care benefits to lower-income people.
The statement said it would provide “credit to stay-at-home caregivers” and that “to provide benefits to lower-income taxpayers who may not benefit from the deduction, the plan also allows parents to exclude child care expenses from half of their payroll taxes — increasing their paycheck income each week.”
Trump also advocated reducing the corporate income tax rate to 15 percent from its current 35 percent. That proposal comes after a decade in which after-tax corporate profits have risen sharply as a share of national income and compensation for workers has fallen.
The House Republicans’ tax overhaul would reduce the number of federal income tax brackets to three (from seven) and eliminate many deductions. Trump’s embrace of it Monday signaled that, on tax policy at least, he is aiming to align himself more closely with the Republican Party.
It appeared to be a change from a proposal by Trump in September, when he said he would cut the top tax rate to 25 percent from 39.6 percent. That plan has been removed from his campaign website.
“We will work with House Republicans on this plan, using the same brackets they have proposed: 12, 25 and 33 percent,” he said. “For many American workers, their tax rate will be zero.”
Trump said, accurately, that the proposal he has adopted would reduce federal taxes across the board. But he failed to mention that the wealthy would disproportionally benefit. An analysis by the Tax Foundation found that it would increase after-tax income for middle-income families (those in the 40th to 60th percentile) by 0.2 percent. It would increase after-tax income for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans by 5.3 percent.
The conservative-leaning foundation found that the plan would reduce revenue by $2.4 trillion over the coming decade using “static analysis,” but that it would result in a comparatively modest revenue reduction of about $200 billion if you assume that lower taxes will result in much stronger economic growth.
Other elements of Trump’s economic agenda lack details that would make similar analysis possible. He proposed a moratorium on new regulations that would certainly warm the hearts of business interests that have complained of excessive regulation in the Obama era. But it is hard to know how much of a factor regulation has been in the sluggish economic growth of the last several years.
And on energy policy, Trump reiterated his pledge to tear up the Paris climate agreement and halt the United States’s payments to the United Nations for programs to reduce global warming. He said energy regulations were killing manufacturing jobs.
Although Trump is aligned with much of the business sector on regulatory and energy issues, he is more hostile on trade, where he departs from Republican economic orthodoxy. By pledging a much tougher line on trade policy, including abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, he put himself directly at odds with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other major business groups.
Trump said his daughter Ivanka had advised him on the child care tax break, saying “she feels so strongly about this.”
The address represented an opportunity for Trump to change the subject after a week in which he was embroiled in controversy over his critical remarks about the Muslim family of a fallen American soldier and several other miscues. As a result, Trump’s poll numbers have taken a dive, and some Republicans have started to desert him.
With protesters forcing him to halt his address roughly a dozen times, Trump restrained himself during the interruptions, although at one point he offered a glancing retort.
“Bernie Sanders’ people had far more energy and spirit,” Trump said as one person was being escorted out of the venue by security.
In his speech, Trump cast Clinton as a champion of old economic ideas that have left millions of Americans unemployed or impoverished as jobs shift to foreign countries.
“Every policy she has tilts the playing field toward other countries at our expense,” Trump said.
He described the nation’s economic status as far worse than official statistics would suggest, calling the 4.9 percent unemployment rate “one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics.”
In other campaign developments Monday:
▪ Campaigning in Florida, Clinton cast the presidential election as a moment of national reckoning.
“Just imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office, facing a real crisis,” Clinton said. “What happens when somebody gets under his skin? I don’t know if the United States can afford that kind of risk.”
Clinton warned that voters should not be fooled by what she called an effort to refurbish the Republican nominee’s image: “There is no other Donald Trump. What you see is what you get.”
Faulting Trump’s just-announced economic policy, she said: “His tax plan will give super big tax breaks to large corporations and the really wealthy.”
▪ Four dozen senior national security officials who have served under GOP administrations stretching back to that of Richard Nixon warned that Trump “would be the most reckless president in American history.”
“None of us will vote for Donald Trump,” said their letter. The signers included Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge, both former secretaries of homeland security, as well as John Negroponte, who served as director of national intelligence.
The Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times and Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.