The latest tea leaf in the will-he-or-won’t-he drama surrounding Donald Trump these days: the influential Club For Growth, the fiscal purists who were tea party before it was cool, are taking shots at Trump with both barrels.
“Donald Trump for President? You’ve got to be joking,” Club president Chris Chocola said in a statement sent to reporters Monday morning.
Joke or not, Trump’s rapid rise in the polls is forcing party powerbrokers to take note, with the Club only the latest to turn fire on The Donald.
Speaking on Fox News last week, Karl Rove — chief architect of the GOP’s last White House wins — gave a full-throated dismissal of Trump’s candidacy, saying his “full embrace of the birther issue means he’s off there in the nutty right, and is now an inconsequential candidate.”
But with some reports suggesting Trump may in fact be serious to the point of putting together a concrete campaign, many on the right seem ready to admit — they’ve got a Trump problem.
And for those who would rather he stay more sideshow than serious contender, Trump’s past is providing plenty of ammunition with which to take on his maybe-maybe-not-campaign. As Dave Weigel first pointed out last week, Trump’s previous flirtations with presidential politics have left him with a political history that’s full of single-payer health care advocacy and massive tax increases on the rich to pay off the national debt.
Other issues include his past support for prominent Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), to whom Trump’s donated cash. That along with what appears to be some concern over Trump’s birtherism and you’ve got a recipe for some blowback.
But don’t worry, conservatives, Trump told TPM over the weekend: he’s not the man he used to be.
Chocola’s concerns stem from Trump’s 2000 campaign tome, The America We Deserve. In it, Trump calls for a Canadian-style health care system and a one-time 14.25% tax on the wealthiest to pay down that era’s $5.7 trillion national debt.
“Donald Trump has advocated for massive tax increases that display a stunning lack of knowledge of how to create jobs,” Chocola said in the statement. “His love for a socialist-style universal health care system and his alarming obsession with protectionist policies are automatic disqualifiers among free-market conservatives.”
In his stump speech before the Palm Beach Tax Day Tea Party rally this weekend, Trump lit up familiar tea party themes like calling for the repeal of the health care reform law and and promising “no new taxes.”
In TPM’s exclusive interview with “The Donald”, he brushed off questions about his old positions and embraced a more tea party-friendly line, though he declined to embrace the House Republican budget’s destruction of Medicare in favor of a voucher system. He also explained his conversion on taxes:
Ralliers TPM spoke with Saturday in Boca Raton seemed convinced. One couple attending their first tea party rally to see Trump, Bill and Janet Hardican of Plantation, FL, said that they’re sure Trump has changed his mind on the tax issue and health care. Breaking with tea party tradition, however, the pair actually wished Trump would go back to his old views. They personally favored a health care system in America modeled on Australia’s, which they said offered a “basic health policy for everyone.”
Rep. Allen West (R-FL), who introduced Trump at the rally after giving his own fiery speech, told TPM that he was glad to have Trump in the tea party fold. He said the fact that Trump brings new people to tea party rallies shows he’s “a good thing” for the movement.
Last week on Hannity, Trump was asked to explain his past financial support for Schumer, a tea party villain if ever there was one. Trump, chatting with Hannity from his Manhattan tower in a city that’s been led by two successive Republican mayors (Mike Bloomberg’s now an independent, to be sure) said the geography of his situation means he’s got to throw a little cash at Democrats now and again.
“Everyone is Democratic,” Trump explained. “So, what am I going to do, contribute to Republicans? Am I going to contribute to, I mean, one thing I’m not stupid. Am I going to contribute to a Republican for my whole life when they get, they run against some Democrat. And the most they can get is one percent of the vote?”
Ed Note: This post has been updated