Hillary Clinton’s campaign website features an “issues” page where visitors can read the Democrat’s position papers on 31 different issues. Each page features a fairly detailed overview of the candidate’s approach to the issue – some, including the page on climate change, lead to additional resources with even more specific information – leaving little doubt as to how Clinton intends to govern if elected.
Donald Trump’s campaign website, meanwhile, features a “positions” page with summaries of the Republican candidate’s approach to seven issues. Most of the content is vague and boilerplate, and voters hoping to learn detailed information about how Trump would govern will need to look elsewhere.
As it turns out, this isn’t an accident or the result of a bad web team. Rather, it’s the result of a deliberate decision on the part of the campaign to downplay substantive details ahead of the election. Politico reported yesterday:
A source familiar with Trump’s thinking explained that the billionaire businessman was reluctant to add new layers of policy experts now, feeling it would only muddy his populist message that has been hyperfocused on illegal immigration, trade and fighting Islamic extremists.“He doesn’t want to waste time on policy and thinks it would make him less effective on the stump,” the Trump source said. “It won’t be until after he is elected but before he’s inaugurated that he will figure out exactly what he is going to do and who he is going to try to hire.”
Oh. So, Trump will eventually put together a policy agenda, but not until after the election. Voters should support the least-experienced, least-prepared presidential candidate of the modern era first, and then he’ll let the public know how he intends to govern.
The traditional model is for a candidate to present an agenda before the election – voters might want to know what they’re voting for – but who needs such antiquated niceties when there’s a nativist demagogue who doesn’t understand how government works running for the nation’s highest office?
I’ve been banging the post-policy drum for a few years now – one of these days, I’d love to find time to write a book on the thesis – but Trump’s “vote now, details later” posture is a terrific encapsulation of the larger problem. In 2016, Republican politics treats substance and policy details as an annoyance to be avoided.
Why “waste time on policy” when the priority should be ensuring a candidate is “effective on the stump”? It’s the kind of thinking that suggests style must always trump substance, because governing isn’t nearly as important as winning.
Of course, it’s worth emphasizing that Trump doesn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. He has no background in public policy or government, so it’s not as if he can help shape a substantive agenda of his own, and even if the presumptive Republican nominee wanted to hire subject-area experts to help him craft a detailed platform, actual wonks would turn him down, wanting nothing to do with his candidacy.
The aforementioned Politico piece quoted a former senior official from the Bush/Cheney administration saying, “The A-level people, and there are not that many of them to begin with, mostly don’t want to work for Trump.”
In other words, even if Trump wanted a credible policy agenda – he doesn’t, but even if he did – the Republican really doesn’t have a team in place to help him pull a governing vision together.