WALLACE: Mr. Trump, your proposed tax cut would add $10 trillion to the nation's debt over 10 years, even if the economy grows the way that you say it will. You insist that you could make up for a good deal of that, you say, by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse. TRUMP: Correct. WALLACE: Like what? And please be specific. TRUMP: Department of Education. We're cutting Common Core. We're getting rid of Common Core. We're bringing education locally. Department of Environmental Protection. We are going to get rid are of it in almost every form. We're going to have little tidbits left but we're going to take a tremendous amount out. We have various other things. If you look at the IRS, if you look at every single agency, we can cut it down, and I mean really cut it down and save. The waste, fraud, and abuse is massive.
During last night's debate, Fox News' Chris Wallace pressed Donald Trump to explain why the candidate believes his economic plan is fiscally responsible. It offered a rare sight: real-time fact checking during the debate itself.
Now, "waste, fraud, and abuse" has become a tiresome cliche for precisely the reason viewers saw last night: it's a shallow phrase used a little too often by lazy candidates who don't know what they're talking about.
And in this case, Wallace expected the exact answer Trump delivered, so the co-moderator put on screen charts that proved the candidate's proposed cuts wouldn't cover nearly enough. "Your numbers don't add up," Wallace said -- twice.
Trump, scrambling, said he intends to save taxpayers "hundreds of billions of dollars" by negotiating with pharmaceutical companies through the Medicare system. Wallace, again anticipating the answer, pointed to more evidence that showed the savings Trump imagines simply don't exist in the real world federal budget.
It was, to be sure, a difficult moment for the Republican frontrunner. It's hard to know whether GOP voters care about such things, but the back and forth between Trump and Wallace exposed the simple fact that Trump's numbers don't add up -- and he can't explain why.
But there's one thing debate viewers may not have realized: Trump's rivals are in the exact same boat.
Marco Rubio, for example, has said he can slash taxes on the wealthy by trillions of dollars, increase military spending, not touch social-insurance programs like Medicare for current seniors, and balance the budget. For those who take arithmetic seriously, that's insane. Ted Cruz's plan is every bit as absurd.
The debate put Trump on the spot -- given his frontrunner status, maybe he deserves additional scrutiny -- but if the audience came away with the idea that Trump's plan was somehow unique in its fiscal irresponsibility, that's unfortunate.
Paul Krugman added this morning, "[Y]ou have to wonder why, exactly, the Republican establishment is really so horrified by Mr. Trump. Yes, he's a con man, but they all are. So why is this con job different from any other?"
Something similar came into focus yesterday, during Mitt Romney's condemnation of Trump's candidacy. The failed former candidate took aim at the GOP frontrunner yesterday and argued, among other things, "His tax plan, in combination with his refusal to reform entitlements and to honestly address spending would balloon the deficit and the national debt."
What Romney didn't mention is that Trump's plan -- on taxes, entitlements, and spending -- is actually very similar to the plan Rubio and Cruz have put forward. It's also, incidentally, very much in line with the Romney/Ryan platform from four years ago.
We'll explore this in more detail in the weeks ahead, but one of the great ironies of the Republican Party's crackup is that the various factions agree on an awful lot. There are differences over tactics, tone, and personalities, but for a party that's coming unglued, it's amusing to appreciate the fact that the contingents really aren't that different.