Trump sticks to conservative script in economic speech

Jonathan Oosting, and Chad Livengood

Detroit — Donald Trump worked Monday to refocus his presidential campaign and reassure concerned Republicans, using a Detroit Economic Club luncheon to tout a series of conservative proposals to cut taxes, freeze new business regulations and lift energy industry restrictions imposed by the Obama administration.

In a 52-minute speech that featured few off-the-cuff remarks, the New York businessman cast Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as the “candidate of the past” and attempted to link her to struggles in Detroit, a city less than two years removed from the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in American history.

“Detroit is the living, breathing example of my opponent’s failed economic agenda,” Trump said. “Every policy that has failed this city, and so many others, is a policy supported by Hillary Clinton. She supports the high taxes and radical regulation that forced jobs out of your community.”

Trailing Clinton by nine percentage points in a recent Detroit News-WDIV poll of Michigan voters, which showed some jittery Republicans throwing their support behind Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, Trump also made a concerted pitch to her potential supporters. He teased a plan to make child care expenses fully tax deductible while continuing his assault on international trade agreements many blue collar workers blame for manufacturing job losses.

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Trump repeatedly tied Clinton to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which her husband signed into law as president in 1993. Clinton spoke positively of NAFTA as first lady but has since said the deal did not live up to its original promise. She now supports renegotiation.

“Detroit is still waiting for Hillary Clinton’s apology,” Trump said in a line that got applause. “I expect Detroit will get that apology right around the same time Hillary Clinton turns over the 33,000 emails she deleted.”

Billed as a major policy speech, Trump reiterated his support for a 15 percent corporate tax rate, down from the current maximum of 35 percent, and total repeal of the estate tax. He also called for reducing personal income taxes from the current seven-bracket system and creating three new brackets of 12 percent, 25 percent and 33 percent for the highest earners.

Last September, Trump proposed lowering the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent and creating two other rates of 10 percent and 20 percent, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. Trump’s new proposal is modeled after the U.S. House Republican plan.

“The rich will pay their fair share, but no one will pay so much that it destroys jobs or undermines our ability as a nation to compete,” Trump said. “For many American workers, their tax rate will be zero.”

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Clinton, expected to tout her own jobs plans Thursday in Detroit, responded to Trump on Twitter, calling his plan a “repackaging of trickle-down economics” that won’t “help our economy or the vast majority of Americans.”

In an appeal to middle-class families with two working parents, Trump proposed allowing Americans to deduct the entire cost of child care against their taxable income. Clinton has proposed capping child care expenses at 10 percent of a family’s income by providing tax credits and subsidies.

Under current federal law, two working parents can claim a tax credit of up to $3,000 for one child’s day care and $6,000 for multiple children, but both parents have to be working.

American families are “suffering, they’re suffering,” Trump said in a speech repeatedly interrupted by a series of individual protesters. “We’re going to give them this much-needed relief.”

His daughter Ivanka Trump, who attended the Detroit speech, will help him develop a child care deduction proposal with more details to be unveiled “in the coming weeks,” Trump said.

Appearing in the hometown of the domestic auto industry, Trump vowed to end America’s involvement in NAFTA, a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, while trying to assure the crowd he’s not an economic isolationist.

“Isolation is not an option,” Trump said. “Only great and well-crafted trade deals where we as a country for once benefit instead of being taken advantage of.”

If elected president, Trump said he would withdraw from the proposed 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact President Barack Obama has been pushing Congress to approve.

Clinton has said she opposes the TPP. But Trump noted that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently suggested Clinton will amend the trade deal and sign it if elected president, comments McAuliffe backtracked on during the Democratic National Convention.

“If sent to the Oval Office, Hillary Clinton will enact the TPP. Guaranteed,” Trump said. “Her donors will make sure of it. A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote for TPP — and it’s also a vote for NAFTA.”

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon criticized Trump over past comments about the auto industry. They included tepid comments about the federal bailout that helped General Motors and Chrysler avoid potential collapse, and his August 2015 suggestion that Ford Motor Co. could curb Mexican expansion plans by moving some production out of Michigan to lower-wage states.

“The fact that he would come to Detroit to tout his economic plan is either a sick joke or a complete lack of understanding of what drives the Michigan economy,” Dillon said in a statement. “Both possibilities are likely with Trump when you look at his track record.”

Trump’s proposed corporate income tax cut drew cheers from the crowd of mostly business executives.

“I like the idea of bringing down corporate taxes so corporations stay here and don’t flee the country,” said Joe Clark, a Ford retiree and former University of Detroit Mercy vice president.

Clark, who described himself as a conservative voter, said Democrats can’t argue Trump’s corporate income tax rate favors just the wealthy.

“I think they favor getting people employed,” he said. “When you doom corporations, you doom the people working for them.”

In a break from Economic Club tradition, Trump did not take audience questions, a decision made by the campaign, said club spokesman Matt Friedman.

Schuette offers support

Trump pledged to issue an executive order for a temporary moratorium on business regulations and rescind energy sector executive orders from President Barack Obama, including the 2013 Climate Action Plan.

He also reiterated his proposal to eliminate the federal estate tax, a 40 percent level on wealth that exempts the first $5.45 million per individual. Clinton has proposed hiking the estate tax to 45 percent and reducing the exemption to $3.5 million, according to a Tax Foundation analysis.

“Obama has tried to Europeanize the economy with crushing regulations, crushing taxes. And look at the growth rate. It’s barely a hiccup,” said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has endorsed Trump despite reservations over some controversial comments. “The fact is, people want jobs and paychecks.”

Trump’s visit came on the heels of Friday’s relatively strong July jobs report. The U.S. added 255,000 non-farm payroll jobs last month, and the unemployment rate remained steady at 4.9 percent.

But the national economy grew 1.2 percent in the second quarter of 2016, Trump noted, arguing that Obama policies have created “the weakest so-called recovery since the Great Depression, and a doubling of the national debt.”

Clinton has scheduled a Thursday address in Detroit, but a specific time and location have not yet been announced. Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine spoke Friday in Grand Rapids, and Pence visited Michigan in late July.

“Michigan is battleground state — we’ve been saying that for a long time,” said Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel. “Note that the Republicans have come first, and then the Democrats have followed.”