Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump appeared on NBC's "Today" this morning
, participating in a town-hall-style event in front of a sizable group of voters. The candidate and the hosts covered quite a bit of ground, but there was one exchange in particular between Trump and Savannah Guthrie that struck me as especially important.
GUTHRIE: Do you believe in raising taxes on the wealthy? TRUMP: I do. I do -- including myself. I do.
The audience, it's worth noting, applauded the answer. The one policy most Republicans would never consider under any circumstances happens to be quite popular -- a detail Trump seems to understand far better than his party does.
This morning was not, by the way, the first time Trump has stated this position. On the contrary, the New York Republican has been boasting since last summer about his willingness to break with GOP orthodoxy. Last August, he told
Bloomberg Politics that multi-millionaires are currently "paying very little tax and I think it's outrageous.... I know people in hedge funds that pay almost nothing and it's ridiculous, OK?"
Asked if he's prepared to raise his own taxes, Trump said at the time, "That's right. That's right. I'm OK with it. You've seen my statements, I do very well, I don't mind paying some taxes."
Given how popular the underlying idea is, this populist rhetoric is exactly the kind of thing that helped fuel Trump's rise to the top of the Republican presidential race. It's why, when Trump reiterated his position this morning, the audience started clapping before he even finished his answer.
There's just one nagging problem: what Trump said isn't even close to being true.
Vox's Ezra Klein had a good summary
of the Republican candidate's proposal last month.
The Republican field is full of breathtakingly large tax cuts. But even in the crazy context of this election, Trump's tax plan stands out for its sheer irresponsibility. The Tax Policy Center found that Trump's tax cuts would cost about $9.5 trillion -- and that's before accounting for interest on all that new debt. The size of that number boggles the mind. Trump's plan would, for instance, more than double the national debt. It would wipe out 45 percent of projected income tax revenue over the next decade. [...] But Trump's tax plan isn't just incredibly expensive; it's also incredibly regressive. The Tax Policy Center found that the average low-income taxpayer would get $128 from Trump's plan, but the average top 1-percenter would get $275,257, and the average 0.1-percenter will get $1.3 million. It's a huge tax cut for Trump and his wealthy friends.
In other words, when Trump earns applause for saying he supports raising taxes on the wealthy, he conveniently overlooks the fact that he's running on a platform that calls for massive tax breaks for the wealthy.
Whether or not Trump is lying is hard to say with any confidence. It's entirely possible, for example, that Trump has no idea what his campaign has put forward in terms of tax plans, and in turn, he may not realize the great distance between his rhetoric and reality. For all I know, Trump would be completely surprised by his campaign's own positions.
But either way, there's ample evidence that Trump does not agree with his most popular policy position.