Now that Donald Trump has secured his place as the Republican Party's presidential nominee, the fact that his statements on matters of public policy often don't make sense will be taken much more seriously. The latest example came during yesterday's interview between Trump and CNN's Wolf Blitzer in which, among other things, Blitzer asked Trump about Puerto Rico.
You can read our explainer on the Puerto Rico situation here, but the long and short of it is that Puerto Rico owes a ton of money and, due to population loss, it can't pay. Under normal circumstances, a city or county or business in this situation would file for bankruptcy to reduce its debt burden, but the existing bankruptcy code doesn't let Puerto Rico do this. The White House and many congressional Democrats have proposed creating a bankruptcy process for Puerto Rico, but Republicans — at the behest of distressed debt funds that bought up Puerto Rican bonds — have blocked it.
Here's Blitzer trying to ask Trump if he agrees the bankruptcy law should change:
WOLF BLITZER: They're prevented from using the bankruptcy laws, Puerto Rico, as opposed to all the US states. You've used those bankruptcy laws over the years.
DONALD TRUMP: I'm the king — I understand. By the way —
WOLF BLITZER: Should Puerto Rico have an opportunity to use the bankruptcy laws?
DONALD TRUMP: As a very successful person I would buy companies, throw them in a chapter, bankrupt it, negotiate — I would do great deals, I didn't use them for myself, I used them as a businessperson. Many of the top people in my category use the laws. I know more about debt than practically anybody, I love debt. I also love reducing debt, and I know how to do it better than anybody. I will tell you with Puerto Rico they have too much debt. You can't just restructure; you have to use the laws, cut the debt way down, and get back to business, because they can't survive with the kind of debt they have. I would not bail out if I were — if I were in that position I wouldn't bail them out.
WOLF BLITZER: Would you let them have a bankruptcy option?
DONALD TRUMP: They're going to have no choice. if they're not going to pay the bill they're not going to pay the interest on the bonds —
WOLF BLITZER: They can't.
DONALD TRUMP: They can't. You can't — you know, the expression you can't take it out of the grave if they don't have it. Whether they officially declare or not, but ultimately what they have to do is cut the debt way down. They're never going to pay that debt off, they have to cut it way down, and the United States is going to be in that position very soon because they have too much debt.
Trump is so busy here being defensive about his business record that he's not understanding what the question is. He seems to think that Puerto Rico legally can file for bankruptcy and the problem is they haven't done so, and that what they need is a smarter leader/negotiator at the helm who can clean up the balance sheet the way he would have in one of his real estate deals.
But the whole political issue is that a) Puerto Rico can't do this, legally speaking, and b) the political party that Trump leads is blocking the Obama administration from changing the law. But Trump has no idea what's going on and doesn't seem to be listening to Blitzer's questions.
It's easy to go numb to these kinds of things, roll your eyes at pedantic coverage, and say Trump's success so far shows voters don't care about small details like whether or not the president has any idea what he's talking about.
But the fact of the matter is that very few people vote in primaries at all, and lots of people don't pay much attention to early campaign coverage. The fact that Trump repeatedly shows up to interviews totally unprepared to discuss the issues of the day in an informed manner and proceeds to wing it in an inconsistent and ideologically unpredictable way is important, and people need to keep hearing about it.