Trump's Populism Is Transforming GOP's Economics, Adviser Says

Nov 29, 2016
Originally published on November 29, 2016 11:19 am

Stephen Moore, a senior economic adviser to Donald Trump, was once a doctrinaire libertarian and free-trader. Now, Moore says: "Donald Trump's victory has changed the [Republican] Party into a more populist working-class party in some ways that conservatives like myself will like and some that we'll be uncomfortable with."

Moore recently told House Republicans that the Republican Party under Trump is no longer the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan. In an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, Moore explains the change:

"I worked for the Gipper. ... I think Ronald Reagan truly was one of our great presidents. I think if I had my way I would put him on Mount Rushmore. But the point I've made over and over to these lawmakers is, look, this is 2016. It's not 1986. We have different problems in this country [than] we did when Ronald Reagan was president. The voters have different concerns. ... [Trump] saw something out there in the voters that no one else saw."

Moore, an economic consultant with FreedomWorks, the grass-roots organization that helped launch the Tea Party, discusses Trump's plans to revive U.S. manufacturing jobs, being tough with China on trade and the president-elect's personal business holdings.


Interview Highlights

On protectionism versus free trade

Protectionism is a bad idea and obviously trade is a good thing. But I think we also have to recognize that, even though as a country we benefit from free trade, that there are people who have been victimized by trade and those are a lot of the people in these industrial Midwestern states. ...

On whether it's possible to make better deals with China without resorting to protectionism and raising tariffs

I guarantee you that Donald Trump is going to be a much tougher negotiator with China. Now how that turns out, I don't know. I believe that China's economy is highly dependent on the United States market and Donald Trump has made this point. Look, we have leverage over China. They need us probably more than we need them.

On whether China will have leverage over Trump since he has borrowed money from a Chinese bank and wants to do real estate deals there

No, I don't believe so. I think Donald Trump is going to put his business dealings aside. ... He must do that if he's going to be a successful president and I believe he will be. He has got to put his personal business concerns to the side and act in the national interest. And Americans are going to demand that.

On whether Trump's promise to bring back jobs to industries, such as steel and coal, that peaked decades ago makes economic sense

There's no question about the fact that a lot of the jobs that have been lost are never coming back. [Auto production lines, for instance, are more automated.] And so, yes, of course things are different. But I do believe that we can bring factories and jobs and companies back to the United States with a better tax system and a better regulatory system.

So this idea that these areas have to be left for dead ... No, I think we can have coal mining jobs again in this country, I think we can have steel jobs, I think we can have manufacturing jobs. We can make things again and we can do that because we have the best-trained workers, we have the lowest-cost energy and then we're going to have a public policy system that makes America competitive.

On whether Trump will impose 35 percent tariffs, as he proposed in the campaign, if he fails to renegotiate trade deals with China and Mexico

I hope not. I oppose tariffs. I think tariffs are a terrible idea. I've told Donald Trump that. [My role] is to try to push him in as much the right direction on some of these issues as I can. I've tried to tell him and he's actually used this in some of his speeches: Trade is good. He says, "I'm not a protectionist; I'm not an isolationist. But we have to make sure when we do trade, it's fair and free." And you know what? I've come around to that idea, too.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

An adviser to Donald Trump made a bold statement about the Republican Party the other day. Economist Stephen Moore told lawmakers they're not in the party of Ronald Reagan anymore.

STEPHEN MOORE: Donald Trump's victory has changed the party into a more populist working-class party in some ways that conservatives like myself will like and some that will be uncomfortable with.

INSKEEP: Now, we don't know how much the party will change, but Trump adviser Stephen Moore came by to tell us why he changed. Like Reagan and many Republicans, Moore backs free markets and free trade. Just last year he criticized Trump for his attacks on trade deals, his threats to rework them or impose big tariffs. Moore insists he is still a free trader. But after meeting Trump, he says he sees the issue differently.

MOORE: I think Americans are generally in favor of trade but they want to make sure that it happens in a way that doesn't cost people in the Midwest their livelihoods.

INSKEEP: If protectionism was a bad idea economically before, isn't it still?

MOORE: Sure. Protectionism is a bad idea. And obviously trade is a good thing. But I think we also have to recognize that even though as a country we benefit from free trade, that there are people who have been victimized by trade. And those are a lot of the people in these industrial Midwestern states.

And I have to say, I traveled a lot with Donald Trump on the campaign trail. And I did a lot of campaigning myself. And I went to these places like York, Pa. and places like Milwaukee, Wis. And I saw this economic distress of these areas. And you can understand why these people are skeptical of trade.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember though, there have been a lot of presidential candidates and some successful presidents who criticized China specifically on trade or other issues during the campaign. And then the reality strikes and either you deal with China or you don't deal with China. Is there really a way to make all the deals so much better without becoming a protectionist and yanking up tariffs?

MOORE: I guarantee you that Donald Trump is going to be a much tougher negotiator with China. Now how that turns out, I don't know. I believe that China's economy is highly dependent on the United States market. And Donald Trump has made this point, look, we have leverage over China. They need us probably more than we need them.

INSKEEP: Since you talked about leverage over China I have to put this on the table, whether China is going to have leverage over the president-elect who has borrowed money from a Chinese bank for a building in Manhattan, who wants to do real estate deals in China.

MOORE: You mean - you're talking about his personal deals?

INSKEEP: I'm - his personal deals, yes.

MOORE: Right.

INSKEEP: Are they going to have leverage over him? He hasn't clarified how, if at all, he would separate himself.

MOORE: No, I don't believe so. I think Donald Trump is going to put his business dealings aside. And, by the way, he must do that if he's going to be a successful president. And I believe he will be. He has got to put his personal business concerns to the side and act in the national interest. And Americans are going to demand that.

INSKEEP: So we had Jonah Goldberg of National Review on the program on Friday. And your name came up because you had made this statement that Republicans were no longer the party of Reagan. And let's listen to something of what Jonah Goldberg said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JONAH GOLDBERG: Steve Moore, who I've known for a long time, I'm friendly with Steve, but he has been the foremost deacon in the church of Ronald Reagan for decades. And for him to go out and say that this is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan, I can't find a better analogy but it's pretty close to the pope saying, you know, Jesus shmesus (ph), you know?

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

We were laughing there, you're laughing here.

MOORE: I'll laugh, too. And Jonah is a friend of mine, by the way. Look, as pertains to Ronald Reagan, I worked for The Gipper. Jonah's right, I think Ronald Reagan truly was one of our great presidents. I think - if I had my way, I would put him on Mount Rushmore.

But the point I've made over and over to these lawmakers is, look, this is 2016. It's not 1986. We have different problems in this country that we did when Ronald Reagan was president. The voters have different concerns. I think what Donald Trump did which was so amazing, one of the things I admire the most about the president-elect is the way that he saw something out there in the voters that no one else saw.

INSKEEP: It's interesting that you said it's 2016, not 1986, because it's pretty well documented that a lot of the things that Trump has said that appeal to people about the economy especially are things that he has been saying since the 1980s. And that he wants to revive industries that were big in the '80s or even before that in the '50s, saying we're going to bring all the steel jobs back even though the steel industry has transformed in ways that it just doesn't employ as many people.

MOORE: True.

INSKEEP: Does it make sense to just turn back the clock 50 or 60 years economically?

MOORE: No. But it's - and there's no question about the fact that a lot of the jobs that have been lost are never coming back.

INSKEEP: Even though he said, we're going to bring all the jobs back? Just not going to happen?

MOORE: Well, let me kind of clarify my position.

INSKEEP: Sure.

MOORE: By the way, you know, I remember when I was 9 years old and my parents took me to a auto plant in Michigan. And I remember it as if it was yesterday, you know, it had a big impression on me. People on the lines working hard, you know, lifting heavy equipment and, you know, those were grimy jobs. Those were hard working hard hat workers. You go into a - just a few months ago I went into a Ford plant, you know, it's nothing like that. It's people working with...

INSKEEP: It's robots.

MOORE: ...Yeah, robots. And people were working with diagnostic equipment and so on. And so, yes, of course things are different. But I do believe that we can bring factories and jobs and companies back to the United States with a better tax system and a better regulatory system.

So this idea that these areas have to be left for dead, no. I think we can have coal mining jobs again in this country. I think we can have steel jobs. I think we can have manufacturing jobs. We can make things again. And we can do that because we have the best-trained workers. We have the lowest-cost energy. And when then we're going to have a public policy system that makes America competitive.

INSKEEP: During the campaign, Mr. Trump said that he was going to work to preserve jobs that the Carrier Corporation has in Indiana...

MOORE: OK.

INSKEEP: ...Making air conditioners so forth...

MOORE: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...Basic manufacturing jobs. They're supposed to go to Mexico where wages are much, much cheaper.

MOORE: Right.

INSKEEP: He demanded that Carrier preserve the jobs in Indiana. Carrier said, not going to do that. Then over the Thanksgiving holiday, the president-elect tweeted that he was talking with Carrier and that he was working on that.

Now as a guy from Indiana, I totally sympathize with the idea of keeping good jobs in Indiana. But I do wonder if, as a conservative economist, you can approve of the idea of the president of the United States calling a specific company and demanding that they make a specific change that they don't feel is in their business interest?

MOORE: I certainly don't think any president should demand that of a company. But I don't have a problem with a president working with a company to try to keep jobs here in the United States. I think that's one of the reasons that Donald Trump was elected. I mean, these voters really took a leap of faith that this is a man who will stand for them.

INSKEEP: If it gets right down to it on free trade. If the president tries to get a new deal with China, get a new deal with Mexico, doesn't work out and he says, OK, time for the 35 percent tariff that I've talked about.

MOORE: I hope not. I oppose tariffs. I think tariffs are a terrible idea. I've told Donald Trump that. I view my role, to the extent I have one with Donald Trump, is to try to push him in as much the right direction on some of these issues as I can. And I've tried to tell him and he's actually used this in some of his speeches - trade is good. He says, I'm not a protectionist. I'm not an isolationist. But we have to make sure when we do trade, it's fair and free. And you know what? I've come around to that idea, too.

INSKEEP: Stephen Moore, thanks for coming.

MOORE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: He's an adviser to President-elect Trump and a consultant with FreedomWorks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.