Donald Trump, nonpolitician, promised candor Thursday night.
“I will present the facts plainly and honestly,” he said in one of his, um, more terse passages.
And yet, on many matters, his speech adopted the classic trick of a catch-me-if-you-can pol: Say something that’s ostensibly or arguably true, but very misleading — and then let the truth try to catch up.
Consider his assertion about the federal fiscal situation.
“President Obama has almost doubled our national debt to more than $19 trillion, and growing,” Trump said.
Now, on the face of it, that’s reasonably accurate. Total national debt (including IOUs to the Social Security Trust Fund) is about what Trump says. The truly relevant debt, that held by the public, is now higher than $14 trillion, more than double when Obama took office.
But Trump’s formulation leaves the impression that the increase has come because of a massive increase in spending under Obama.
Not so. Obama took office as the country was plunging ever deeper into the Great Recession, the economy shearing off hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. As it did, the deficit increased markedly, and for a simple reason: In economically troubled times, much less revenue comes into the federal coffers.
But as Republicans know, and frequently say, it’s unwise to raise taxes in a recession. Or, though they don’t say this, to cut federal spending in those times, because doing so reduces demand and thus deepens the bad times.
And then, when the economy recovered, the deficit came steadily down. (Fiscal discipline and tax hikes on upper earners also helped.)
So what would happen under Trump or Clinton?
According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Hillary Clinton’s plans, which include both new spending and new revenues, would increase the federal debt over 10 years by $250 billion.
Trump’s big tax-cut plans?
Well, they would swell the publicly held debt by a whopping $11.5 trillion over a decade – considerably more than the increase for which he took the incumbent president to task.
And that is tricky Donald Trump in a nutshell.