Trump tries to recover from blunders by sketching his economic agenda

Reeling from a cascade of blunders that drove his poll ratings down, Donald Trump sought to regain his standing Monday by laying out an economic agenda of tax cuts, vast spending on public construction and a tougher posture on trade.

“I want to jump-start America, and it won’t even be that hard,” the Republican presidential nominee said in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club.

Trump's formal presentation was a central part of his attempt to recover from campaign turmoil that left many Americans doubting his capacity to be commander in chief.

It came as 50 senior Republican national security officials, including several members of President George W. Bush’s Cabinet, signed a letter warning that Trump “would be the most reckless president in American history.”

Trump, they wrote, “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”

Trump’s economic proposals were split between traditional GOP policies, like rolling back taxes and easing federal regulations, and ideas unpopular with the GOP majority in Congress, like scrapping trade pacts and pouring new money into railways, highways and other infrastructure.

Trump’s claim that his plans would spark explosive job growth left many economists skeptical, as did the absence of detail on how he would pay for his proposals.

“At some point, you can’t live in a world completely divorced from economic reality,” said Edward Kleinbard, a business and law professor at University of Southern California. He called Trump’s simultaneous tax cuts and new spending “fundamentally unrealistic.” 

Trump proposed tax cuts last year that would benefit primarily the wealthy and cost as much as $10 trillion over the next decade, economists say. They include elimination of the federal inheritance tax, which applies to estates worth at least $5 million.

Trump has also promised a major buildup of the military at an unspecified price, and he has vowed to resist pressure by fellow Republicans to curb Social Security and Medicare, a pledge he did not mention Monday.

“It can’t add up is the bottom line,” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank.

Still, the New York businessman appeared to cut the overall cost of his previous plan by making several revisions Monday. 

He initially had proposed simplifying individual income tax rates with four brackets — 25%, 20%, 10% and 0%. He raised those Monday to align with a House Republican plan that calls for rates of 33%, 25%, 12% and 0%.

Prior to those changes, a Moody’s Analytics report concluded that Trump’s economic agenda would thrust Americans into a lengthy recession, create “very large deficits” and burden the country with “a much higher debt load.”

In Detroit, Trump also proposed letting parents deduct the average cost of child-care spending. The plan risks favoring the higher-income taxpayers who most rely on itemized deductions, but the absence of specifics left the impact unclear.

Trump, who was interrupted by hecklers more than a dozen times, cast his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as a champion of old economic ideas that have left millions of Americans unemployed or impoverished as jobs shift to foreign countries.

“Every policy she has tilts the playing field toward other countries at our expense,” Trump said.

He described the nation's economic status as far worse than official statistics would suggest, calling the 4.9% unemployment rate “one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics.”

Trump's effort to focus on the economy comes after several weeks of lurching from one controversy to another, including his feud with the Muslim parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004, and his stoking of tensions with Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

For several days, Trump has avoided the kind of off-the-cuff remarks that have undermined his campaign. But similar periods of self-restraint proved short-lived in the past as the outspoken celebrity businessman reverted to blunt comments and personal attacks.

On Monday, Trump stuck closely to his prepared remarks. He vowed to cut government regulations “massively,” saying President Obama has imposed rules that hamstring business.

Trump assailed the administration for “anti-energy regulations,” such as those curbing the emissions of coal-fired power plants.

Left unmentioned was Trump’s rejection of the science of climate change, which Obama cites as the rationale for rules curbing emission of greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Trump hammered Clinton for backing the North American Free Trade Agreement, which links Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and a trade pact with South Korea. He predicted Clinton’s campaign donors would succeed in pressuring her to renege on opposition to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, which Obama supports.

“Just imagine how many more automobile jobs will be lost if the TPP is actually approved,” he told the audience in Detroit. “It will be catastrophic.”

Trump also vowed to “bring trillions of dollars in new wealth and wages back” to the United States by cracking down on China’s theft of American intellectual property, currency cheating and other trade violations.

“So simple,” he said. “So simple.”

On Twitter, Clinton said Trump’s agenda was “a repackaging of trickle-down economics — and it doesn’t help our economy or the vast majority of Americans.”

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

Twitter: @finneganLAT

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