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Trump, on Meet the Press, shows he still has no policy plans

In Sunday’s interview with Kristen Welker, Trump went with his classic playbook of vague answers and conspiracy theories.

Trump and Welker sit opposite one another in a dimly lit, carpeted sitting room with olive green walls, golden curtains, and an American flag in the corner.
Former President Donald Trump sits down for an interview with NBC’s Kristen Welker at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, New Jersey, on September 14, 2023.
William B. Plowman/NBC via Getty Images
Ellen Ioanes covers breaking and general assignment news as the weekend reporter at Vox. She previously worked at Business Insider covering the military and global conflicts.

Donald Trump appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, ostensibly to discuss his platform for the 2024 campaign — but ultimately responding to interviewer Kristen Welker’s questions with his trademark blend of self-aggrandizement and conspiracy theory.

Since Trump has thus far refused to participate in the Republican debates, Sunday’s appearance should have been a time for him to articulate his policy vision should he be reelected. But unsurprisingly he failed to do so, in line with his previous campaigning and governing style.

Trump turned serious questions about abortion policy, the war in Ukraine, the economy, and fiscal policy into an aggrieved rehash of the 2020 election — which he still falsely claims was “stolen” — and claimed his energy policies would have prevented the war in Ukraine by driving oil prices down.

Sunday’s interview shows that Trump still lacks the vision, understanding, and capability to effectively govern — and that his only goal, as always, is self-promotion.

The interview underscored a vagueness on substantive policy which allows Trump’s supporters and potential voters to read what they want into his statements and feel like he represents their interests, while also letting him double down on election-denying conspiracy theories.

Trump doesn’t know substantive policy — but he knows what appeals to his followers

Welker’s interview attempted to corral Trump on serious policy issues — an essentially impossible task despite her efforts to keep him on topic.

When asked if he would sign a 15-week ban on abortion, Trump repeatedly lied that Democrats advocate for post-birth abortion and abortions up to “five, six, seven, eight, nine months,” implying that Democrats wanted late-term abortions on demand, rather than in the medically necessary cases in which they occur.

Though Welker confronted him with reports of women suing their states for the harm they suffered under restrictive abortion policies, Trump doubled down on his conspiracy theories but ultimately equivocated about whether or not he would sign a ban into law, what exceptions should be included in such a ban, or how Congress would come to an agreement on such a polarizing issue. “Something is going to happen where both sides are going to be able to come together,” he told Welker, without specifying what that something would be or how it would come about. However, when speaking at an event for the political arm of Concerned Women for America, a right-wing, anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion activist group, Trump did say that he supported exceptions to an abortion ban for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

He also vaguely promised to “make a fair deal for everybody” between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin over the latter’s ongoing and illegal invasion of Ukraine. “I would get [Putin] into a room. I’d get Zelenskyy into a room. Then I’d bring them together. And I’d have a deal worked out.” The details of that deal, of course, were off limits because, he claimed to Welker, “if I tell you exactly, I lose all my bargaining chips.” He similarly avoided answering a question about what he would do if Xi Jinping invaded Taiwan, telling Welker, “I won’t say, because if I said, only stupid people would give that answer.” He later added, after being prompted, “I won’t take anything off the table.”

In contrast to fellow Republicans who have advocated invading Mexico to control the illicit trade in fentanyl, Trump was yet again vague, saying only that “something has to be done, and it has to be done fairly quickly.” That last part is true — drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed since 2014, with fentanyl or other synthetic opioid overdoses making up the bulk of those deaths, according to data from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Trump again said he would lower corporate income tax rates on Meet the Press — just how much “depends on where we are at the time” — and claimed that his tax cuts created “tremendous jobs.” The Democratic incumbent challenger, President Joe Biden, meanwhile has said he wants to raise corporate taxes to 28 percent, which PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates will raise $1.3 trillion over 10 years.

Trump in his first term already lowered corporate taxes, with an average effective federal income tax rate of just 9 percent for large corporations and 34 percent of these types of companies paying no tax at all during the first year of the Trump tax cuts, according to a 2023 report from the Government Accountability Office. And even a preliminary report from the Congressional Research Service released in 2019 showed that the tax cuts had no effect on gross domestic product during the first year of implementation — and that the plan would reduce tax revenue by $1.5 trillion over a decade.

When Welker asked whether he would pardon insurrectionists who have been investigated and in some cases imprisoned for their participation in the Capitol breach on January 6, 2021, Trump said he “certainly might” pardon insurrectionists “if I think it’s appropriate.” But footage from Trump’s speech at the conservative Pray Vote Stand summit Friday shows him telling the audience, “The moment I win the election I will appoint a special task force to rapidly review the cases of every political prisoner who’s been unjustly persecuted by the Biden administration” and pledging to “study the situation very quickly, and sign their pardons or commutations on day one,” CNN reported.

Trump’s posts on his platform Truth Social mention little about the Meet the Press interview. However, many of his posts feature footage and links from right-wing outlets like Real America’s Voice and Right Side Broadcasting Network (RSBN), appealing to followers who disavow mainstream media and look to social media and right-wing sources for their news.

Those recent posts do not concern serious, relevant policy issues like those Welker tried to discuss on Sunday, but rather focus on anti-trans policies that Trump would enact, denigrating the multiple investigations into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his handling of classified documents, and further entrenching his conspiracy theories regarding so-called election interference.

Paying attention to these speeches and appearances outside of the mainstream media indicates what Trump’s priorities are — or at least what he thinks his followers want to hear. Trump knows who his audience is and what to tell them to get the response he wants, like at the Concerned Women for America and Pray Vote Stand summits. An appearance on a mainstream show might seem on the surface to be a good-faith effort to discuss his plans for a future presidency, but he unsurprisingly used it as a platform to air grievances and deliver little of substance.

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