Donald Trump has now won the last three primary contests and, however much we don’t like it, conservatives have to face the fact that he has a good chance of being the Republican nominee. He has done so by running a campaign that has been long on personality and short on content.
Primary voters deserve answers to the questions Trump has been dodging. We must know the truth about the man who seeks to place himself at the head of the Republican Party. We must demand that the news media and his fellow candidates start holding him to account.
1. Will Donald Trump Place His Businesses into a Blind Trust?
Trump speaks a great deal about his business empire and how fabulously successful it is. There’s been considerable debate on that (some people say he’d be richer if he’d just invested his inherited wealth into an S&P index fund) and a lot of talk about his use of the bankruptcy code. Most of the talk focused on the Trump Organization’s past performance, and precious little on its future. We’ve already seen how his campaign spends a great deal of money at Trump properties, funneling that money ultimately right back to him.
But what of the future of the Trump Organization? We’ve had businessmen-candidates before, but they’ve been scrupulous about separating private interests from public duty. Mitt Romney promised to put his private fortune in a blind trust if elected. George W. Bush did the same. Will Trump do likewise?
Our only clue came in the debate of January 14. When asked about a blind trust, Trump replied: “I don’t know if it’s a blind trust if Ivanka, Don and Eric run it,” he said of his children. “If that’s a blind trust, I don’t know.”
He does know, of course, and the answer is: it’s not. In a blind trust, the trustee must have full discretion over the assets, and the trust beneficiary (Donald Trump, in this scenario) must have no knowledge of how the assets are held and no control over them. This requires a truly independent trustee, not the children of the beneficiary.
We’ve seen the opposite of a politician using a blind trust, although not (fortunately) in America. In Italy, the election of billionaire media mogul Silvio Berlusconi led to a situation similar to one we would face under a President Trump. Berlusconi claimed to have separated the two, but the evidence is to the contrary as his businesses gained more than a billion dollars in value during his premiership. Berlusconi became a by-word for corruption in Europe. We must demand that Trump take steps to avoid tarring the American government with that same brush.
2. Will Donald Trump Release His Tax Returns?
Trump has refused to release his tax returns, an informal requirement to which nearly every candidate for decades has adhered. Other Republican candidates have done so—Jeb Bush released 33 years’ worth, for all the good it did him—and even Hillary Clinton has published eight years of the details of her wealth. Not so Trump.
Romney famously suffered unending attacks in 2012 when he released just two years of returns, and only then under pressure from the news media. Harry Reid famously slandered him from the defamation-immune zone of the Senate floor. Without those returns, there was no way for Romney to refute Reid. Indeed, many people still “remember” that Romney released no returns at all, even when that is not the case. Given that the 2016 campaign has focused a great deal of attention on Clinton’s ill-gotten gains, we need a nominee who will uphold a higher standard of transparency.
Trump has been promising to release his tax returns for some time. Last October, he tweeted a picture of them, so we know they exist, at least for 2014. But still they were not released. A month ago, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that his campaign was “working on that.” But we have still not seen them. This week, he delayed again, telling Hugh Hewitt that he’d release the returns “at some point, probably.”
This is unacceptable. While the press has been happy to discuss Ted Cruz’s loans from his wife’s employer and crawl all over Marco Rubio’s credit card confusion of a decade ago, they’ve been quiet about Trump’s mysterious income. His fellow candidates have also pulled their punches on the topic. On Thursday, when they are gathered on the same debate stage, one of them ought to have the courage to ask Trump, “What are you hiding, Donald?”
3. What Is Donald Trump’s Real Position on Abortion?
Trump’s policy positions are as confused as his finances, none less so than his recent conversion to the pro-life cause. His own explanation of the change, even if it is true, shows remarkably shallow thinking.
One thing about me, I’m a very honorable guy. I’m pro-life, but I changed my view a number of years ago. One of the primary reasons I changed [was] a friend of mine’s wife was pregnant, and he didn’t really want the baby. He was crying as he was telling me the story. He ends up having the baby and the baby is the apple of his eye. It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him. And you know here’s a baby that wasn’t going to be let into life. And I heard this, and some other stories, and I am pro-life.
Given this reasoning, presumably if the kid had turned out to be a juvenile delinquent, Trump and his unnamed friend (all his friends are unnamed in these stories) would still be, as he famously told Tim Russert in 1999, “very pro-choice.”
This is an issue on which many people will not accept a wishy-washy compromise. Conversions are welcome, of course, but they have to be true conversions, not Vicar of Bray-style equivocations. Trump clearly doesn’t understand the value of human life. At best, he’s come to recognize that some babies aren’t all that bad.
Many pro-life voters might accept a nominee, like John McCain or Bob Dole, who agrees with them but doesn’t emphasize social issues. But they will never cast a ballot for a man they believe, in his heart, is indifferent to the sanctity of human life. In the 1850s, the Whig Party was shattered because of its equivocation on a crucial issue, slavery, that was too important to ignore. The broken pieces were gathered and reforged into a stronger, purer Republican Party that vanquished the slave power.
Faced with a choice between two major-party nominees friendly to abortion, pro-life voters should not and will not hesitate to repeat that history. Trump must prove his true adherence to that cause, or else forfeit a wide swath of conservative support. If the debate moderators will not nail him down on this question, it is up to other candidates to do so.
4. How, Exactly, Will Mexico Pay for That Wall?
Reaction against illegal immigration is what propelled Trump to the top of the polls. While all the Republican candidates favor strengthening the border, only Trump has adopted the idiosyncratic position that he will have our government build a 1,900-mile wall and, somehow, make the Mexican government pay for it.
He never quite manages to say how he will accomplish this feat. Governments are reluctant to build things in foreign countries that will harm their own citizens. Given that Mexicans working in the United States send upwards of $20 billion a year to their families in Mexico, Mexico has no incentive to restrict the flow of goods and people across the border. So why would they pay for a wall that would do exactly that?
Those remittances provide a clue about Trump’s reasoning, if indeed he has any. As Jim Geraghty reported in National Review last year, Trump has proposed impounding those remittances to pay for his construction project.
There are a few problems with that. For one, many of those remittances are from legal residents of the United States. Separating their money from that of illegal immigrants is likely impossible. For another, even if it were possible, the money in question is the property of those people. Entering a country illegally does not give its government the right to seize all of a person’s worldly goods. Socialists think the government has a right to all a person earns, but capitalists tend to eschew that idea.
The real answer is that the “Mexico pays” line is, as the late Justice Scalia might have said, pure applesauce. The policy is a fraud, likely concocted as a spur-of-the-moment line in a speech that generated enough applause to make him want to repeat it. Like many of Trump’s foreign policy ideas, it’s an absurd fantasy. Unfortunately, it is a fantasy that has wormed its way into his supporters’ minds. It must be dislodged.
Trump’s opponents must demand the specifics that his plan lacks. They must expose this idea for what it is: a con. If they can show voters concerned with immigration that Trump is feeding them a pack of lies, and show them instead that other candidates with real plans might solve the problem of illegal immigration, some of his support (though not all, to be sure) will start to crumble.
None of these questions matter if no one asks them. The debate moderators may help, but the news media have seemed more interested in spectacle than fact. It’s up to Trump’s opponents, especially those with a plausible path to the nomination (Cruz and Rubio) to put Trump to the question, and to keep asking until we get the answers we deserve.