It’s worth pausing in the midst of covering Donald Trump’s various feuds to remember that the position he is campaigning for is “president of the United States” and that he has some ideas about what he would do in the job. Not only that, it’s an interesting platform -- some of his positions are conventionally conservative, some are surprisingly liberal, and a number fall outside the typical left-right spectrum entirely.
Don’t blame yourself if you missed it, though. Trump’s own website includes no “issues” section and his speeches tend toward bragging about his poll numbers more than laying out policy white papers.
Here’s a rundown of some of the ideas Trump has put forward in recent years.
Immigration has emerged as Trump’s defining issue although it’s not clear he planned it that way when he announced his campaign.
When it comes to the way he talks about immigration, Trump is bar none the most radical in the field -- he famously accused Mexico of engaging in a deliberate campaign to send “rapists” and other criminals across the border, a claim that’s run afoul of numerous fact checkers. When it comes to Trump’s actual positions, however, it’s another story. On some key points, he’s actually more liberal than many GOP rivals.
Like every Republican running for president, Trump has argued that the U.S. needs to crack down on illegal border crossings. In his eyes, that means building a giant wall along the border. Experts warn it would be expensive and run into various geographic and legal difficulties without slowing illegal immigration, but Trump’s not the only candidate to call for similar measures. He is unique in the party in his insistence that the Mexican government pay for it. How he will get them to do this is not exactly clear – he’s threatened to “do something severe” unless they backed the effort and floated charging them $100,000 per undocumented immigrant as possible compensation.
At the same time, however, Trump has suggested that some undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay after the border’s secured, a position that puts him in line with immigration doves like Florida governor Jeb Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. “If somebody's been outstanding, we try and work something out,” Trump said on msnbc’s "Morning Joe" last week. Trump has also previously railed against Mitt Romney’s proposed solution of “self-deportation” – i.e. making things so difficult for undocumented immigrants that they leave the country voluntarily. Anti-immigration group NumbersUSA recently criticized Trump for his position even as they lauded his tough talk on border security.
This is probably Trump’s favorite topic. The billionaire investor has a populist take on the issue – he’s a critic of free trade agreements and his 2012 book "Time To Get Tough" calls for a 20% tax on all imported goods and a 15% tax on American companies that outsource. More recently, he’s called for a 35% tax on imported cars and auto parts from Mexico. As with his “make Mexico pay for the wall” plan, he’s argued that America should confront alleged currency manipulation by China by somehow “charging them a tax until they behave properly.”
While there’s a protectionist wing within both parties, the Republican field tends to be friendly to international trade and Trump’s call for sweeping new tariffs is more a throwback to the party’s 19th century leadership than to anyone today.
It’s not clear how Trump would define “outsourcing” for the purposes of his domestic tax and, for what it’s worth, his own brands manufacture products in China. As for the import taxes, experts warn that they would violate numerous trade agreements and invite retaliation against American products as a result.
Trump would need the revenue from his new tariffs to pay for the rest of his tax proposals in "Time To Get Tough," which would eliminate corporate taxes entirely, end the estate tax, reduce capital gains taxes, and slash individual tax rates across the board. The highest rate would be 15% for those making over $1 million and the lowest would be 1% for those making $30,000 or less.
Once again, ordinary partisan views of right and left do not do Trump’s positions justice. On the one hand, he boasts in speeches that he opposed the Iraq War as far back as 2004, a position that puts him to the left of everyone but Sen. Rand Paul in the Republican presidential field. On the other hand, he’s argued that the United States should have stayed in Iraq and claimed possession of its oil fields rather than withdraw, a position that puts him somewhere to the right of King George.
"I would take the oil," Trump told the Wall Street Journal in 2011. "I would not leave Iraq and let Iran take over the oil."
Trump has a lot of thoughts on oil – he advocated taking over Libya’s oil fields in 2011 if America initiated a military conflict there as well. His current prescription for defeating ISIS is to bomb Iraq’s oil fields rather than send American ground troops and then bring in major oil companies to repair the damage.
Other positions are more in line with the GOP mainstream. He opposes President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, for example, and has criticized the White House for not fostering closer relations with Israel.
Trump wants to repeal Obamacare like every Republican presidential candidate, but he’s also called for universal health care, a position puts him out of step with the GOP mainstream.
Way back in 1999 when he was considering a third party presidential run, Trump floated “a comprehensive health care program” funded “with an increase in corporate taxes” on CNN. When radio host John Fredericks asked Trump this month about his past support for universal health care, the candidate made clear his views had not changed.
“If I lose votes for that, I don’t really care, because you have to take care of poor people,” Trump said, adding he was “a conservative with a heart.”
Here’s another area where Trump skews left within the GOP: He’s criticized Republicans for proposing cuts to entitlements.
“Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid and we can’t do that,” Trump said in New Hampshire earlier this year. “It’s not fair to the people that have been paying in for years and now all of the sudden they want to be cut.”
Trump’s not unique within the field on this. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is also critical of Republican efforts to tinker with Social Security and Medicare. But it is a bold position in a party where most candidates have lauded Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposals to privatize Medicare and some have floated raising the retirement age for Social Security in order to shore up its finances.
Trump has said he's for "traditional marriage," although he acknowledged that his critics have a "very good point" when they note that he's been married three times.
Trump used to be pro-choice, but is now pro-life. He supports recent Congressional efforts to ban abortion after 20 weeks and recently called on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood in an interview with The Blaze.