Column: Trump fans say he speaks his mind. But on some subjects, he’s as slippery as an eel

Donald Trump’s supporters often say they admire him because he always speaks his mind.

“He’s brutally honest,” Larry Faria, a Trump fan in the San Joaquin Valley, told my colleague Jeffrey Fleishman in March. “His abrasiveness got him elected.”

But on some topics, Trump can be as slippery as an eel.

The presumptive Republican nominee has refused to be pinned down on abortion, Obamacare and the federal budget.

Let’s start with abortion. In 1999, Trump described himself as “very pro-choice.” Once he decided to run for president as a Republican, he declared himself anti-abortion, and he took credit for putting judges on the Supreme Court who overturned abortion rights in 2022.

But when it comes to federal action to ban or limit abortion, Trump has waffled — apparently because he knows any firm position would be unpopular with a big chunk of the electorate. He has warned others in the GOP that tough abortion policies would lose elections.

In March, Trump found what he hoped was a safe harbor. He declared that since the Supreme Court had put abortion in the hands of the states, a presidential candidate didn’t need to take any position at all.

“It’s up to the states,” he shrugged.

Problem solved? Not exactly. The federal government still regulates the two drugs used for medication abortions, which account for more than half of abortions. Anti-abortion groups want the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw its approval for one of the drugs, mifepristone; some also want the Justice Department to ban the shipment of both drugs through the mail.

Last month, a reporter for Time magazine asked Trump where he stood on those questions.

“I will be making a statement on that over the next 14 days,” Trump replied. “I feel very strongly about it. I actually think it’s a very important issue.”

That was April 12, more than six weeks ago.

Last week, I asked Trump’s campaign if he will be announcing his position on mifepristone soon. Aides did not reply.

Meanwhile, a television reporter in Pittsburgh asked Trump if he supports any restrictions on contraception.

“We’re looking at that, and I’m going to have a policy on that very shortly,” the candidate responded.

That was a mistake, and Trump quickly posted a statement that he “will never advocate imposing restrictions on birth control.”

Aides said the candidate thought he was being asked about mifepristone, on which he still doesn’t have a position. A senior moment, perhaps?

Now, Obamacare — the federally funded health insurance program known formally as the Affordable Care Act. Trump tried to repeal the ACA when he was president in 2017 but failed. He still denounces the program vigorously.

“Obamacare Sucks!” he declared in a social media post last year.

But when Democrats said they looked forward to campaigning against him on the now-popular law, the former president backpedaled.

“I’m not running to terminate the ACA,” he posted. “We’re going to make it much better.”

But he has offered no proposals for improving the ACA.

Last week, I asked Trump’s campaign if he will be unveiling any proposals for improving Obamacare. There was no reply.

Finally, taxes and the federal budget. Two weeks ago, at a rally in New Jersey, Trump made a sweeping promise: big tax cuts for everybody.

“I’ll give you a Trump middle-class, upper-class, lower-class, business-class, big tax cut,” he said. “You’re going to have the biggest tax cut.”

Tax cuts are popular, so you might think a candidate would offer some enticing details.

But Trump doesn’t appear to have an actual tax plan — just a broad promise.

The problem is that tax cuts are expensive, at least under traditional budget rules. Orthodox economics and historical experience teach that lower taxes reduce government revenue and increase deficits. For example, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that Trump’s 2017 tax cuts increased federal deficits by at least $1.8 trillion.

Not only that, a big tax cut would pump money into the consumer economy, which would normally push inflation upward.

Until Trump made his tax-cut pledge, the debate over tax policy focused on current rates, which are scheduled to increase at the end of next year, when the 2017 Trump cuts expire.

President Biden has said he wants to raise taxes on corporations and households earning more than $400,000 a year but leave everyone below $400,000 untouched.

Republicans in Congress say their main goal is making sure taxes don’t go up for anybody, including high-income taxpayers or corporations. They notably didn’t rally around Trump’s expansive promise of new cuts.

Fiscal hawks in the GOP would normally insist on a plan to make sure new tax cuts don’t increase the annual budget deficit and the long-term national debt. Trump has offered no such outline. Without any details, his promise looks like what Silicon Valley calls “vaporware” — an announcement without a product.

Last week, I asked Trump’s campaign if he will offer any more details on his tax cut or other budget plans. Once again, no reply.

There’s a straightforward reason Trump hasn’t clarified his views clearly on these three issues: He doesn’t think it will help him win.

“He’s making the campaign about issues that favor him: the economy and immigration,” Republican strategist Alex Conant explained. “Abortion isn’t an issue Republicans think they can win on. Obamacare isn’t going to decide the election … and voters don’t expect a detailed plan on taxes or the budget.”

And it’s probably good politics.

“He’s actually running the most disciplined campaign he’s ever had,” Conant said. “It’s been mostly gaffe-free, with only a few small exceptions.”

But if Trump wants to be president, he owes voters clearer explanations of his policies on mifepristone, Obamacare and the federal budget. Until he does, it’s time to stop giving him credit for being plainspoken.

He’s candid only when it serves his interest.

Read more Doyle McManus columns on Trump:

Trump has big plans for California if he wins a second term. Fasten your seatbelts
Trump wants to round up over a million undocumented migrants from California. Here’s how he might do it
Trump loves fossil fuels; California wants clean energy. Cue collision

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