PolitiFact: Tracking Donald Trump’s campaign promises

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump AP

Provocative rhetoric to “make America great again” fueled Donald Trump’s ascent to the Republican nomination, a status that will be made official this week at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

So how would Trump do that? His campaign promises are aimed at changes to immigration, trade, taxes and foreign policy.

While Trump has made some unorthodox to-dos — such as refusing to take vacations, rejecting the narratives of the elites, and having the country say “Merry Christmas” again — many of his pledges are fairly conventional.

Promises to cut taxes and fight terrorists are the type of promises any politician might make, said Larry Sabato, who directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

“But this has been overshadowed by his unusual profile and approach,” Sabato said.

PolitiFact has been collecting Trump’s campaign promises from his website and public comments. We’re also following the promises of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and will track the promises of the new president whoever it is. We currently track President Barack Obama’s campaign promises on our Obameter.

We identified Trump’s 10 key promises and ran them by experts in their subjects. They told us Trump will face significant hurdles to actually achieve the agenda he is setting.

1. “Build a wall” and make Mexico pay for it.

Trump announced his candidacy with the promise “to build a great, great wall on our southern border” and “have Mexico pay for that wall,” and has repeated the call with conviction and consistency. But even his supporters have expressed skepticism that this centerpiece promise will see the light of day. An actual wall will be extremely costly, and it remains to be seen how Trump would force Mexico to pay for it.

“There are some that hear this is going to be 1,200 miles from Brownsville to El Paso, 30-foot high, and listen, I know you can’t do that,” former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said recently. (Perry once denounced Trump but has since endorsed him.)

2. Temporarily ban Muslims from the United States.

After calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in December 2015, Trump has remained vague on how he would implement this. There’s also the question of whether a ban would survive legal challenges.

Trump pledged in May that the ban would be in place by the end of his first 100 days in office, but then said it was “just a suggestion.” A month later, he recommitted to the ban, tweaking it to now encompass immigrants from “nations tied to Islamic terror.”

3. Bring manufacturing back.

Trump has said he will revitalize manufacturing in various iterations (i.e. “I’m going to be the greatest jobs president God ever created”). But manufacturing jobs have been declining since the 1940s, well before the modern era of free trade deals and China’s economic rise.

“A small number of manufacturing jobs could be brought back, but probably at enormous cost,” said Alan Blinder, a Princeton University economist who specializes in employment and trade and member of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors.

In his June 28 speech on the economy, Trump said he’d do this by imposing tariffs and renegotiating trade deals.

“I am going to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (and) I’m going tell our NAFTA partners that I intend to immediately renegotiate the terms of that agreement to get a better deal for our workers,” Trump said. “I will use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes, including the application of tariffs.”

4. Impose tariffs on goods made in China and Mexico.

Warren Maruyama, a former general counsel to the U.S. Trade Representative under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told us a President Trump would have the authority under trade statutes to impose higher tariffs, but added, “It would lead to a trade war and cost hundreds and thousands of jobs.” Trump would somehow have to convince governments in Beijing and Mexico City not to move against the United States with retaliatory trade measures.

5. Renegotiate or withdraw from North American Free Trade Agreement and Trans Pacific Partnership.

Similarly, President Trump would have the authority to bow out of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans Pacific Partnership. But such a move may not increase American manufacturing jobs; an expert told us that leverage works in both directions.

“Countries like Mexico and Canada would have a list of things they’d want from the United States,” said Alan Wolff, who worked in the trade representative’s office under Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. “(Withdrawing from NAFTA) would result in a fair amount of chaos in companies that are shipping across the border.”

6. “Full repeal of Obamacare” and replace it with a market-based alternative.

Trump’s call to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a marketplace alternative is popular among rank-and-file Republicans. Larger majorities in Congress would be needed for repeal.

“If a Trump win is accompanied by Republican control of both Houses of Congress, then some significant rollback is feasible and likely,” said John McDonough, a health policy professor at Harvard University who served as an adviser on health care to the Democrat-controlled Senate from 2008 to 2010.

7. Renegotiate the Iran deal.

Similarly, Trump has a shot at delivering on his promise to “renegotiate with Iran” even though Iran has said it won’t revisit the issue. Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the nonpartisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies, sees Iran’s attitude as posturing and pointed out that there’s precedent for a follow-up talk.

“The Iranians are continuing to negotiate, demanding significant economic concessions,” Dubowitz said. “I have confidence both (Trump and Hillary Clinton) could renegotiate a better deal.”

8. Leave Social Security alone.

Trump has said repeatedly that voters like Social Security, so it should be left alone.

“There’s no way a Republican is going to beat a Democrat when the Republican is saying, 'We’re going to cut your Social Security’ and the Democrat is saying, 'We’re going to keep it and give you more,’ ” Trump reportedly told House Speaker Paul Ryan, who wants entitlement cuts, in May.

But Trump’s commitment to this promise seems to be wavering. His policy adviser Sam Clovis told Reuters in May that Trump would be open to changes to Social Security if elected.

9. Cut taxes.

Under Trump’s proposed tax reforms, everyone would indeed get a cut. (The top 0.1 percent would receive more tax relief than the bottom 60 percent of taxpayers combined.)

Trump’s plan would increase the federal deficit by at least $10 trillion over the next decade, even if you factor in economic growth. This makes his promise of protecting Social Security harder to keep, given the program is one of the biggest line items in the budget.

The candidate himself has said the details of his tax plan are subject to change, and he would soon announce a new policy. He hasn’t yet done so.

10. “Bomb” and “take the oil” from ISIS.

A twist on his decade-old idea to seize Middle Eastern oil as repayment, Trump repeatedly has said he will “take the oil” from ISIS, arguing it will cut off funding to the terrorist group.

The United States has already been bombing oil assets under ISIS control for quite some time, though.

As for how he would “take the oil,” Trump told the Washington Post’s editorial board in March he would “circle” and “defend those areas” with ground troops, but wouldn’t commit to a number.

To keep this promise, Trump would have to invade Syria and convince the Assad regime to give up its claim on oil and gas in the country, said Matthew Reed, vice president of Foreign Reports, a consultant firm specializing in Middle East oil politics.

“If Trump wants to take oil from ISIS, he needs an invasion plan and an occupation plan covering years, plus a reconstruction plan worth billions of American dollars,” Reed said.

The value of vague promises

Overall, Trump’s appeal may not be rooted in what he says he’ll do — rather it’s in the rhetoric itself.

The wall and Muslim ban, for example, are unrealistic, said Sabato of the University of Virginia, “but both these pledges got Trump airborne and still sustain him. As long as non-college, blue-collar whites like the sound of these promises, Trump will keep repeating them.”

Some of Trump’s positions are actually in line with those of Clinton, such as protecting Social Security and increased skepticism toward trade.

Trump’s lack of detailed pledges and firm stances may be advantageous.

“Voters generally do not punish candidates for being vague, and in partisan elections voters actually prefer ambiguous candidates over precise ones,” Stanford University political scientists Michael Tomz and Robert Van Houweling found in a study. “The reason, we find, is that ambiguity allows voters to 'see what they want to see’ in members of their own party.”

Trump himself put it best in February: “Everything is negotiable.”

Contact Linda Qiu at lqiu@tampabay.com. Follow @YLindaQiu

Donald Trump’s top promises

▪ “Build a wall” and make Mexico pay for it.

▪ Temporarily ban Muslims from the United States.

▪ Bring manufacturing back.

▪ Impose tariffs on goods made in China and Mexico.

▪ Renegotiate or withdraw from North American Free Trade Agreement and Trans Pacific Partnership.

▪ “Full repeal of Obamacare” and replace it with a market-based alternative.

▪ Renegotiate the Iran deal.

▪ Leave Social Security alone.

▪ Cut taxes.

▪ “Bomb” and “take the oil” from ISIS.