As the political primary season kicks into high gear, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is slowly moving from the generalized to the specific. In an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday, Trump revealed the most detailed glimpse we’ve yet gotten at his plans to “make America great again.”
Sitting down with CBS reporter Scott Pelley, Trump offered the nation some new insight into his presidential intentions. And whether he was addressing North Korea (I would make China respect us because China has extreme control over North Korea.) or healthcare (Obamacare’s going to be repealed and replaced.), he has managed to merge his confrontational approach to politics with a more detailed plan.
To be sure, this was Trump’s most difficult interview to date. Pelley came prepared, ready with intelligent follow-ups to Trump’s every response. This was the sort of interview that would have crushed a candidate who was unprepared. And while the analysts are still positioning Trump as a know-nothing who is just repeating Breitbart talking points that he doesn’t understand, this interview confirmed that he’s not as clueless as some might think.
That’s good, because he’s going to be challenged on a couple of points by conservatives. Trump’s critics have overplayed his association with liberals in the past, but his tax policy is going to leave him open to attack from the right. He’s promised to cut taxes for both corporations and the middle class along with cutting it down to zero for a certain percentage of the population. But he has also vowed to raise taxes on “certain people on Wall Street getting away with paying no tax.”
That may resonate with Trump’s populist supporters, but it’s sure to put the very powerful Republican donor class on edge. If he can defend this policy in a way that makes the other candidates look like Wall Street shills, though, it could be the issue that makes it impossible for anyone else to catch up. Trump does, after all, have plenty of experience making money.
The other issue that could trip him up? ISIS. “I would end ISIS forcefully,” Trump told Pelley. He proposed leaving ISIS and Assad to fight it out in Syria, or perhaps even letting Russia finish the job. On the topic of ISIS in Iraq, though, he went quite a bit further:
Trump: Look with ISIS in Iraq, you gotta knock ’em out. You gotta knock ’em out. You gotta fight ’em. You gotta fight ’em. You have to stand–
Pelley: On the ground?
Trump: If you need you’re going to have to do that, yes.
Pelley: Troops on the ground.
In a campaign season where Jeb Bush has already run up against trouble with his defense of the Iraq War, it remains to be seen whether Americans have any appetite for another ground war in the Middle East. Again, though, Trump has an opportunity here to be a leader instead of a follower. If he can present ISIS as a global threat to security that must be nipped in the bud, he could change public opinion rather than follow it.
If you listened solely to the experts, you would have thought Trump would be finished months ago. He’s still here, though, and his poll numbers are stronger than ever. Any candidate is only one gaffe away from a meltdown, but it appears that Trump is in it to win it. He’s not the perfect conservative by any means, and he’s no one’s idea of a dignified statesman, but he’s clearly reaching a portion of the American public that feels betrayed by Washington.
And if he’s half as good at being president as he is at generating interest in his campaign, he may be just the leader we need to put the Obama years behind us for good.