Surprise: Trump Team Has No Idea On Policy Specifics
By Emily Stephenson and Steve Holland
CLEVELAND (Reuters) – People seeking a deeper understanding of Donald Trump’s economic policy came up empty-handed this week at the Republican National Convention.
Best known to Americans previously as a reality TV host and having never held public office, the New York businessman on Thursday accepted the party’s nomination for the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.
The party establishment has fretted over some of his plans to curb illegal immigration, renegotiate trade deals and levy tariffs on China. Trump’s skepticism about free trade puts him at odds with Republican orthodoxy. Wall Street investors are wary and confused.
In speeches from the main stage and in panel discussions on the sidelines, the four-day convention was notable for a paucity of policy details, the result perhaps of a desire to play down differences among the party faithful.
The lack of specifics was too much for one head of a multinational corporation, who complained at a business forum that he had no idea what to expect from Trump, a New York real estate developer.
“We feel anxious,” said Michael Thaman, chief executive officer of Owens Corning, which operates in 25 countries. “In business, obviously details matter.”
Trump offered little insight himself in his convention-ending acceptance speech. He spoke in broad, thematic strokes without much detail, sticking closely to positions he had outlined during 13 months of campaigning.
“Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” Trump said.
HILLARY CLINTON THE TOP TOPIC
Speakers in Cleveland placed a greater emphasis on defeating the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, than on what Trump has called the failed economic policies of President Barack Obama.
On Tuesday night, when the theme was “Make America Work Again” and the economy was the designated topic, a rough search by Reuters of the prime-time speeches found some 80 mentions of the word “Clinton” compared to about 15 mentions of “economy.”
According to transcripts of the speeches delivered at the convention, only Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. mentioned Dodd-Frank, the financial oversight law many Republicans rail against.
Asked on Thursday, before the older Trump’s speech, about the shortage of policy specifics, his campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said: “The campaign is pleased with the convention program, the content of which has been diverse and dynamic and we look forward to an exciting conclusion tonight.”
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was chief economic policy adviser to Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008, was not satisfied with his experience.
He described taking part in a panel discussion on Wednesday with two Trump advisers, television commentator Larry Kudlow and Steve Moore of the conservative Heritage Foundation, that he said was light on details.
“’Isn’t Mr. Trump bad on trade?’” he said someone would ask.
“’Yes, but we’re going to fix it. Don’t worry.’
“‘Isn’t his tax plan a problem that’s going to lose $12 trillion?’
“‘Yes, but we’ll fix it. Don’t worry.'”
Kudlow and Moore also appeared on Tuesday at an event hosted by conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks, along with donor Andy Puzder, the chief executive of CKE Restaurants, which owns fast-food restaurants Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.
The group discussed trade and immigration policy, with panelists at times shrugging off Trump’s lack of specifics. “All you really need to know is the alternative is Hillary Clinton,” Puzder said at one point, reinforcing the week’s theme.
Republicans typically use their nominating conventions to emphasize their candidates’ main policy points. Think tanks and lobby groups hold panel discussions. Experts circulate white papers.
With Trump, the events were built more around his personality and the need for the party to unite behind him. There were some such gatherings in Cleveland, but fewer than usual, Holtz-Eakin said.
Some advisers to past Republican candidates suspected Trump was not relying on a vast team of policy advisers.
Lanhee Chen, an adviser to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, sorted through convention speeches in 2012 before speakers delivered them because, he said, he wanted to make sure they hewed closely to Romney’s positions.
“I imagine the Trump campaign doesn’t have that process in place because they don’t have a lot of policy to talk about,” Chen said. “It just says that policy hasn’t been a priority for them. You end up with a situation where the candidate is making pronouncements that don’t seem particularly well informed.”
Some delegates who spoke to Reuters seemed unconcerned by the policy-light approach to the convention, arguing that it was more important for the gathering to whip up enthusiasm among the delegates and forge unity.
“This is more of a party,” said Ray Suttle, a 53-year-old lawyer and delegate from Virginia. “You don’t like people talking shop at a cocktail party, do you?”
(Additional reporting by James Oliphant; Writing by Howard Goller; Editing by Ross Colvin)
Photo: U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump supporters carry a banner at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar