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Donald Trump Wins Republicans' Hearts With Democratic Ideals

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Donald Trump Wins Republicans' Hearts With Democratic Ideals

March 2, 2016

This column originally appeared on MarketWatch

With Donald Trump's victories on Super Tuesday, the Republican party is beginning to assume a different identity than in prior elections. For decades, people who were elected as Republicans believed in less government, lower spending and taxes, property rights and free trade. If Trump becomes the nominee, this Republican vision of America will be lost.

Rather than adhere to traditional Republican principles, Trump is lifting lines and principles from Democrats. Here are four ways the Republican Party would change if Trump were the nominee.

Disappearing middle class

In his Super Tuesday speech, Trump said the middle class is disappearing. As I wrote here, the Center for American Progress and many other Democratic groups complain about the hollowing out of the middle class. Their remedy is increased unionization.

In reality, middle-class Americans are doing far better than they were in the past, as my Manhattan Institute colleague Scott Winship has extensively documented. The household income of the median adult rose by 52% between 1969 and 2007. The middle class is getting hollowed out because its members are moving to the upper class -- and no one should be standing in their way.

Bigger government

The so-called disappearing middle class is used as an excuse for a bigger, redistributive government by Democrats. Trump is also in favor of bigger government, which will come to the rescue of helpless Americans. In the past, winning Republicans have favored smaller government.

In his book, "Crippled America," Trump wants the government to spend more on infrastructure, just like former Clinton and Obama adviser Larry Summers, even though "on the federal level, this is going to be an expensive investment, no question about that." Trump says our infrastructure "is crumbling, and we aren't doing anything about it." A free-market vision of how government works, such as devolving funding to states and using tolls to enable drivers to pay for the roads and bridges that they use, is gone.

Entitlement reform

In contrast to Democrats, who lobby to expand entitlement programs, Republicans have always been in favor of curbing the entitlements that are powering the U.S. budget deficits. Not Trump, who does not want to change Social Security. America is $19 trillion in debt. When future spending obligations on entitlements are compared with future tax obligations, the so-called fiscal gap is $210 trillion, 12 times GDP and 16 times official debt held by the public.

Social Security and Medicare accounted for almost 40% of federal spending in 2014. When they were put in place, average life expectancy was 67, and many people didn't collect benefits. Now people live until their mid-80s, so these programs need to be restructured. Neither President Franklin Roosevelt, who died at 63, nor President Lyndon Johnson, who died at 64, collected benefits from the programs they put in place.

With more spending and no cuts in entitlements, Trump's America would be forced to either run higher deficits or raise taxes.

Free trade

For decades Republicans have been in favor of free trade and Democrats have advocated for protectionism. Trump has usurped the Democrats' position. He has vowed to impose tariffs on goods from China and Latin America, particularly Mexico. As well as taking the Republican party in a different direction, such protectionist provisions would invite a trade war with important economic partners. Trade benefits millions of families who cut their shopping bills by buying low-cost imports. The amount that Americans spend on clothes has declined by over 20% in real terms over the past 20 years, yet our closets are fuller than ever.

Trade creates jobs not only through investments of foreign companies in the United States, but also by increasing employment at exporting firms. This effect, though less obvious, is far more significant. Andrew Bernard, a professor at Dartmouth College, together with economists Bradford Jensen and Peter Schott, concluded in a book published by the National Bureau of Economic Research that firms that trade goods employed over 40% of the American workforce. They found that about 57 million American workers are employed by firms that engage in international trade. The benefits of free trade, such as increased employment, higher economic growth and lower prices, are often taken for granted.

These are just four of many examples. Breaking with Republican tradition, Trump favors eminent domain -- confiscation of private property for the better good -- over private property rights. Republicans favor free speech, but Trump wants to reform libel laws to allow politicians to sue newspapers that publish negative articles about them. Many Republicans favor legal immigration, yet Trump says he would ban Muslims from the United States. International soccer tournaments would not be played on U.S. soil, and some foreign musicians would not be able to get visas.

Republicans have consistently stood for less government, lower spending, property rights and free trade. Donald Trump wants to move the Republican party in the opposite direction. The question now is whether the Republican party will continue to follow conservative principles or Donald Trump.

 

Diana Furchtgott-Roth is a senior fellow and director of Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute. Follow her on Twitter here.

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