Donald Trump and Social Security: A Saga – Social Security, we are told, will suffer reductions in payouts due to loss of funds in the 2030s. This has been an ongoing concern throughout my lifetime. Every decade, it seems, some bean counter in Washington steps forward with a stark prognostication about how one of the federal government’s most popular programs is at risk.
Since its creation by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s as part of his New Deal Program to combat the Great Depression, Social Security has been a beloved element of the American system. Those politicians who’ve attempted to touch—or even slightly change—the makeup of Social Security have often paid dearly at the ballot box.
Yet, Republican politicians have historically tried repeatedly to grab what many call the “third rail” of American politics. Each time, the Republicans get burned. They come off looking and sounding like the Ebeneezer Scrooge’s that the Democrats (unfairly) accuse them of being. Donald Trump was the first Republican candidate in decades to refuse to attack Social Security.
Not only did Donald Trump tell voters that he had no intention of killing their beloved retirement program (even though it could be much more efficient under a different configuration), but Trump also said he was going to manage it far better than any American leader had. This resonated deeply with voters—notably those in the American Middle-and-Working-Classes (the bulk of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” base).
Republicans Return to Bad Form in ‘24
With another presidential election cycle upon us, the Republican Party is returning to its old, bad form and promoting policies that sound like they want to cut Social Security. This is a surefire way to alienate voters and weaken the Republican Party’s competitiveness in the next election. Donald Trump intuitively understands this.
Much to the chagrin of the Republican Party’s elite, Trump is not a doctrinaire conservative. Ideologically, Trump is the most heterodox candidate the GOP has fielded at least since Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Mitch McConnells of the party dislike that. But the American voters are more attracted to such a candidate than most are willing to acknowledge.
Given the fact that nearly 80 percent of Americans, regardless of political party, support Social Security it strains credulity to think that any political party vying for those votes in an election would attempt to alienate them by calling for the end or diminishment of such a popular program.
On this issue, Trump’s political instincts are sound. He is making traction with these calls, and it’d be nice to see other Republican potential presidential candidates engage in similar behavior. Whatever one’s opinion on the efficacy of the program as it is currently structured, the fact is that most Americans want to keep it as it is. They’ve no time or inclination for the kind of tinkering that the likes of Paul Ryan-type, Ayn Rand-quoting conservatives want to engage in with such an important program for the American Middle-Class. Most Americans rightly view such tinkering as mal-intentioned rather than honest attempts at preserving such a popular program. No amount of politicking from the Republicans can change this perception.
For his part, President Joe Biden who is likely running again in 2024, has identified Social Security as a key area for him to pick up much-needed votes. During his recent State of the Union address, he accused Republicans of seeking to kill the popular program and when he called for saving the program, many Republicans in the House booed him—something that the Democratic Party will undoubtedly use in their campaign commercials in 2024.
Trump is on the record for having called for saving Social Security, which means that he is not only relatively immune to the typical Leftist smears that Republicans want to throw granny off the cliff, but that he might woo some moderate voters to his side with his own plan to save the program.
Social Security Isn’t Going Broke
Republicans, like Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), are talking nonsense when they say that Social Security will be out of money in a decade. It is typical Republican scare tactics (that rarely work, by the way) aimed at ginning up support for radically unpopular moves, such as abolishing Social Security. They don’t like the program on ideological grounds—which is fine (I have problems with it, too). But it is neither fair nor accurate to claim that the program will be “out of money” by 2033.
As my colleague, Peter Siciu deftly assessed recently, because the Social Security fund started paying out more than it took in, the government had to “dip into the $2.9 trillion reserves it holds in two trust funds [the Old Age and Survivor’s Insurance fund and the Disability Insurance fund].”
By the 2030s, the Old Age and Survivor’s Insurance fund will be depleted, meaning there will be a reduction in payouts to recipients. Although, as Siciu points out, “The [Disability Insurance fund] is in better shape and won’t be depleted before the end of the century.” Thus, there will be a reduction in payouts under the current paradigm but not the collapse of the program as every Republican other than Donald Trump argues.
Is Trump Sincere About Saving Social Security?
Of course, a deeper question is: does Donald Trump actually support the Social Security program? The answer is likely “no.” He is just smart enough to realize that it’s political suicide to come out against the program. If elected in 2024, Trump will more than likely make moves to strangle the program silently.
Remember, in 2020 the forty-fifth president unilaterally delayed the payroll tax as part of his COVID-19 economic relief program. The payroll tax is the primary funding mechanism for Social Security. Had he won reelection, it was assumed that President Trump would have permanently cut the payroll tax—meaning that Social Security might have gone insolvent by 2026!
Regardless of this, though, Trump is smart enough not to loudly advertise these stances. He coyly plays the Right and Left against themselves while he mops up the votes of the dispossessed American middle.
At least, this was how he won 2016. It appears he’s trying to do so again in 2024.
Then again, Trump entertained notions coming from people like myself to raise taxes on the top one percent income-earners. Such a tax increase just might yield the funds needed to extend, or even expand, social security.
One way or the other, Donald Trump is smart not to call for the abolishment of Social Security and to work publicly toward preserving it when the other Republicans are calling for its demise.
Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who serves as a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive.com. Weichert is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as a contributing editor at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower(Republic Book Publishers), The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (March 28), and Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.