As he tries to charm Republicans still skeptical of his presidential candidacy, Donald Trump has a challenge: On several key issues, he sounds an awful lot like a Democrat.
And on some points of policy, such as trade and national defense, the billionaire businessman could even find himself running to the left of Hillary Clinton, his likely Democratic rival in the general election.
Trump is a classic Republican in many ways. He rails against environmental and corporate regulations and proposes dramatically lower tax rates. But the presumptive GOP nominee doesn’t fit neatly into a traditional ideological box.
“I think I’m running on common sense,” he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “I think I’m running on what’s right. I don’t think in terms of labels.”
Perhaps Trump’s clearest break with Republican orthodoxy is on trade, which the party’s 2012 platform said was “crucial for our economy” and a path to “more American jobs, higher wages, and a better standard of living.”
Trump says his views on trade are “not really different” from the rest of his party’s, yet he pledges to rip up existing deals negotiated by “stupid leaders” who failed to put American workers first. He regularly slams the North American Free Trade Agreement involving the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and opposes a pending Asia-Pacific pact, positions shared by Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
“The problem is the ideologues, the very conservative group, would say everything has to be totally free trade,” Trump said. “But you can’t have free trade if the deals are going to be bad. And that’s what we have.”
Trump has long maintained that he has no plans to scale back Social Security benefits or raise its qualifying retirement age. The position puts him in line with Clinton. She has said she would “defend and expand” Social Security, has ruled out a higher retirement age and opposes reductions in cost-of-living adjustments or other benefits.
“There is tremendous waste, fraud and abuse, but I’m leaving it the way it is,” Trump recently told Fox Business Network.
It’s a stance at odds with the country’s top-ranked elected Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has advocated fundamental changes to Social Security and other entitlement programs. But it’s also one that Trump argues keeps him in line with the wishes of most voters.
“Remember the wheelchair being pushed over the cliff when you had Ryan chosen as your vice president?” Trump told South Carolina voters this year, referring to then-vice presidential candidate Ryan’s budget plan. “That was the end of that campaign.” Ryan was Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012.
Complicating the efforts to define Trump is his penchant for offering contradictory ideas about policy. He also has taken recently to saying that all of his plans are merely suggestions, open to later negotiation.
Trump’s tax plan, for instance, released last fall, called for lowering the rate paid by the wealthiest people in the United States from 39.6 percent to 25 percent and slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent.
Trump described it as a massive boon for the middle class. Outside experts concluded it disproportionately benefited the rich and would balloon the federal deficit.
Close to clinching the nomination, Trump now appears to be pulling away from his own proposal. While he still wants to lower taxes for the wealthy and businesses, he now says his plan was just a starting point for discussions and he would like to see the middle class benefit more from whatever changes he seeks in tax law.
“We have to go to Congress, we have to go to the Senate, we have to go to our congressmen and women and we have to negotiate a deal,” Trump said recently. “So it really is a proposal, but it’s a very steep proposal.”
Trump has a similar take on the minimum wage. Trump said at a GOP primary debate that wages are too high, and later made clear that he does not support a federal minimum wage. Yet when speaking about the issue, he says he recognizes the difficulty of surviving on the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
“I am open to doing something with it,” he told CNN this month.
On foreign policy, Trump already appears working to paint Clinton as a national security hawk who would too easily the lead the country into conflict.
“On foreign policy, Hillary is trigger happy,” Trump said at a recent rally. He listed the countries where the U.S. had intervened militarily during her tenure as secretary of state and pointed to her vote to authorize the Iraq war while she was in the Senate.
Trump’s own “America First” approach appears to lean more toward isolationism. One of his foreign policy advisers, Walid Phares, recently described it as a “third way.”
“This doesn’t fit any of the boxes,” Phares said.
Clinton has advocated using “smart power,” a combination of diplomatic, legal, economic, political and cultural tools to expand American influence. She believes the U.S. has a unique ability to rally the world to defeat international threats.
She argues the country must be an active participant on the world stage, particularly as part of international alliances such as NATO. Trump has criticized the military alliance, questioning a structure that sees the U.S. pay for most of its costs.
“No, I think I’m much tougher than her on foreign – and I think we won’t have to use it,” Trump recently told Fox News when asked whether he might come to Clinton’s left on some foreign policy issues. “You know, I appear that I might – maybe to the left. I believe in very, very strong defense. I believe in world peace. I want to help other countries.”
Lisa Lerer in Washington contributed to this report.