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'Forbes' Editor: Trump Continues 'Common Rhetorical Line' On Trade Deals


We're going to spend the next few minutes now with Avik Roy. He's the opinion editor at Forbes, and in the past, he's advised the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Marco Rubio. Welcome to the program.

AVIK ROY: Good afternoon. How are you?

CORNISH: Good. Now, as we heard in the piece, Donald Trump has been rejecting the idea of trade agreements like NAFTA, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But in this speech, he did something different, saying explicitly that he's in favor of trade. Did you get any clarity from Trump today on what makes, quote, unquote, "a great trade deal"?

ROY: Well, this is - this rhetoric that he's used today is very consistent with rhetoric he's used on the campaign trail for a long time now. He'll always say - and you look - you can look at the past transcripts of his old speeches. He'll always say, I'm in favor of trade; trade is great, but these deals - NAFTA, TPP, the South Korean Free Trade Agreement - are all terrible.

And so this is a common rhetorical line used by people who are against free trade that say, we're in favor of trade; we just don't like any of the free trade deals that America has actually signed onto.

CORNISH: But no other details there that gave you comfort as somebody who is a supporter of free trade.

ROY: No. You know, I mean it's all about how you actually think about - he says, OK - for example, he'll say, well, we only want trade agreements that bring jobs to America. Well, free trade does bring jobs to America. And what was really interesting in his speech, which, by the way, had (inaudible) footnotes - the written version of it - which might be a personal record for Donald Trump - the source of a lot of his numbers on the free trade section of the speech came from an organization called the Economic Policy Institute, which was a think tank or is a think tank that was founded by labor unions to promote the labor unions' point of view on free trade agreements.

And it might be the first time - certainly the first time in my lifetime that a major policy address by a Republican presidential nominee so heavily relied on data and studies from a labor-union-backed think tank.

CORNISH: Now, in what ways did Donald Trump show that he has been influenced by the more establishment wing of the party? Is that something you heard today in his tax cuts, for instance? And do these changes risk I guess alienating his core supporters who chose him over more establishment Republicans like the ones you supported - you know, Marco Rubio?

ROY: Well, I think, again, the overall intellectual structure of the speech is very much consistent with what Donald Trump has been saying on the campaign trail. He's against free trade. He's against immigration. But he has been in favor of tax reform, and he has been afraid of - in favor of developing American energy sources like through fracking or hydraulic fracturing. The tax reform plan in particular was an area where there seems to be some movement from where Mr. Trump was several months ago.

CORNISH: Right. His original plan would have increased the debt by $10 trillion according to many experts, right?

ROY: Correct. And the - he's now said that he wants to have a plan that's more harmonized with what House Republicans under speaker Paul Ryan have proposed. That plan has been scored by independent analysts as only increasing the deficit $191 billion dollars over 10 years and accretive to the debt and the deficit over time.

So a much more fiscally responsible plan is what House Republicans have proposed. And while Trump said, well, our plan won't be exactly like the House Republican plan, the closer it is to that plan, the less likely it is to increase the deficit.

CORNISH: And do you believe him that this version of Trump, this policy vision is something that could stick?

ROY: Well, you know, I take him at his word in terms of that his policy thinking on tax reform has evolved because I think he recognizes that a plan that would increase the deficit by $10 trillion over a decade is not a plan that's likely to get traction in Congress.

Having said that, it's far from clear in general that Donald Trump is a guy who really thinks about the details of policy and is going to do the kind of heavy lifting you have to do as president to get those policies through in Congress. I think the hope is that Paul Ryan and his crew will push policies through Congress and Trump will just sign them. That's not really how policy works.


ROY: You really need the president to be invested.

CORNISH: I'm going to have to leave it there with Avik Roy, opinion editor at Forbes. Thank you for speaking with us.

ROY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.