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Donald Trump

Last modified: October 21, 2016

Donald Trump is a successful real-estate mogul who has achieved celebrity status and been in the national spotlight for nearly 30 years. He has hinted in past election cycles he might run for president, and he announced his campaign for the 2016 Republican nomination in June 2015.

Trump took a significant inheritance and, through a combination of business acumen and extreme self-promotion, turned it into a fortune that typically makes the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans. His name has become a brand identified with luxury and extravagance. Between his business dealings, his hosting of a television reality show, and a personal life that has been featured in tabloids for several decades, Trump is among the most recognized people in America.

Trump has identified with the Republican Party for many years, although his political giving has been bipartisan in nature. He has made securing the border and opposing illegal immigration a cornerstone of his campaign, and he favors significant tax reform as well. His views on foreign policy are consistent with a non-interventionist viewpoint, and he opposed the Iraq invasion.

Trump’s campaign was initially considered to be a long shot, although since his June announcement he has polled well, leading the field in nearly every poll in recent months. His bombastic and confrontational speaking style (he routinely insults opponents and critics) has drawn many admirers looking for an alternative to the often stale and politically calibrated statements of most politicians, although it has also generated significant controversy.

Trump has led the polls since shortly after entering the race and has established himself as the clear frontrunner after finishing second in Iowa and winning New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada by wide margins. He won seven of 11 of the Super Tuesday states, finishing in second place in three others, and has continued to win most of the contests since then, including Michigan, Florida, Illinois and North Carolina. He is currently leading the delegate race for the GOP nomination by a comfortable margin.

He still faces strong opposition from many GOP leaders, and his candidacy could be damaged by the many Republican voters who say they would never consider supporting him. Although he is the delegate leader, it is possible and even likely that he will not be able to win a majority on the first ballot at a contested convention, and subsequent ballots may see his support drop sharply. He has high personal negatives that cause many to question his electability. But Trump has managed to exceed nearly everybody’s expectations throughout the campaign, and his success to date has established him as the leading contender for the GOP nomination.

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Donald John Trump Sr. was born June 14, 1946, in Queens, New York. He is the son of real estate developer Frederick Christ “Fred” Trump and Mary Anne McLeod Trump. He was one of five children.

Trump was raised in Queens and attended The Kew-Forrest School in Forrest Hill, Queens. After he experienced some behavioral difficulties at the school, Trump’s parents elected to move him to New York Military Academy in Corwall-on-Hudson, N.Y. There, Trump was an academic honors student and a varsity athlete in football, soccer and baseball.

After graduating from NYMA, Trump attended New York’s Fordham University for two years. He them transferred to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to attend what was, at the time, one of the few real estate academic programs in the country. He graduated with a bachelor of science in economics in 1968.

After graduation, Trump joined his father’s company and launched a generally successful professional life as a real estate developer and owner of several gambling properties, although his career was marred by four bankruptcy filings for his businesses.

In addition to his real estate dealings, Trump has profited significantly from the branding and licensing of the Trump name as well as owning the Miss Universe Organization, which produces annually the Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA beauty pageants. He also has established a significant media presence, most notably as executive producer and host of the NBC reality contest program The Apprentice.

Trump has been married three times and divorced twice. He married Ivana Zelníčková in 1977. Together they had three children: Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric. They were divorced in 1992. Trump married his mistress, Marla Maples, in 1993. Together they had one child, Tiffany. He and Maples were divorced in 1999. Trump was wed to Slovenian native Melania Knauss in 2005, and together they have one child, Barron William.

Trump is a Presbyterian.


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Trump has been politically involved over his adult life, increasingly more so in recent years. While he has contributed to both Republican and Democratic candidates over his life, he has become an increasingly consistent supporter of Republicans and Republican causes. In recent years, he has spoken regularly at the Conservative Political Action Conference and other conservative and Republican events.

He has also expressed criticism of corporate welfare received by green energy companies from the Obama administration. Trump has, however, benefited numerous times throughout his professional life from government benefits. He has received numerous and considerable tax breaks and federal financing throughout the building and growth of his real estate empire.1 Trump has also constructed a TV studio in Florida that can take advantage of that state’s significant 20 percent film tax credit.2 In his effort to purchase the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, he also stated that he was open to accepting public financing for a new football stadium.3

He has also benefited from government’s use of eminent domain power, or the threat of it, to seize property4. This includes the famous battle he had with Vera Coking, who refused to sell her Atlantic City, N.J., property to Trump to help facilitate the expansion of Trump’s hotel/casino property. Coking successfully resisted the seizure of her property.5

Trump has also been a fervent critic of Obamacare, although in his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, he called for universal health care coverage and a single payer-equivalent system in the U.S.6 In an apparent double-reversal of positions, Trump first expressed support for the Obama administration’s bailout of the Detroit auto makers, then criticized them years later, and most recently said he could have gone either way on the bailouts and thought they were acceptable.7

He also changed his position on the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, saying in early October 2015 that it was “a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place,” but two weeks later he denied saying it was a mistake and asserted that Afghanistan was “where we should have gone” (instead of Iraq).8

Trump appears to have misstated his earlier position on U.S. involvement in Libya, which he now claims to have opposed. In 2011 he said, “Now we should go in. We should stop this guy which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it and save these lives. … These people are being slaughtered like animals. … We should do it on a humanitarian basis. Immediately go into Libya, knock this guy out very quickly, very surgically, very effectively and save the lives.” In a February 2016 debate, however, Trump said he had never spoken about Libya before and indicated he had never supported U.S. involvement.9

And while Trump has been frequently opposed to new and higher taxes, he did in 1999 propose a one-time 14.25 percent tax on individuals and trusts worth more than $10 million, to be paid over 10 years.10 He has also said he identifies with Democrats more than Republicans on some issues, adding to the questions about Trump’s ideological consistency and professed commitment to conservative ideas.11

Trump has also been involved in a number of questionable ethical situations, as well as legal battles.

He was sued by the Justice Department in 1973 for racial discrimination,12 when it alleged that his New York real estate company had discriminated against several black renters.13

In 1999, during a dispute with a nephew regarding his father’s will, Trump reneged on a commitment to pay for the medical treatment of his nephew’s newborn son, born with cerebral palsy.14

In 2002, the SEC filed a financial reporting case accusing Trump of committing several “misleading statements in the company’s third-quarter 1999 earnings release.” The matter was settled without Trump’s company admitting or denying the charge.15

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has also sued him for his operation of Trump University. Schneiderman’s suit alleged that Trump had defrauded 5,000 people out of $40 million, paid for what was billed as a chance to learn Trump’s real estate investment skills at Trump University.16 Similar claims against Trump University have been allowed to proceed in separate cases in California, Florida and New York.17 A New York judge found Trump liable in October 2014 for operating a for-profit investment school, in violation of New York state education laws, leading to the restricting of the Trump University program.18

Trump’s marriages have also raised questions about his ethics. His first marriage, to Ivana, ended after his affair with Marla Maples was made public in the press. This led to Ivana’s receiving a $25 million settlement in the divorce.19

Trump has made flatly untrue statements on the campaign trail in defending his record. During the second Republican debate in September 2015, he denied that he had ever sought to get into the gambling business in Florida. As numerous accounts attest, Trump was very vigorous in pursuing casino opportunities in the state.20

Trump also denied that he had ever filed for bankruptcy during the same debate when an opponent brought up the four times his companies had filed for bankruptcy,21 three involving casinos and a fourth time a hotel in New York City.22 Trump appeared to be trying to distinguish between filing for personal bankruptcy, which he has never done, and business bankruptcies.

Perhaps most troubling are Trump’s alleged ties to organized crime. He was a developer of hotels and casinos in New York City and Atlantic City, requiring significant dealings with a construction industry in both locales that was firmly under the control of the mafia, and numerous Trump properties were built by firms run by organized crime figures.23 An unauthorized biography of Trump from the early 1990s details several alleged connections between Trump and organized crime, including a meeting between him and Anthony Salerno, head of the Genovese crime family, after he obtained a gambling license in Atlantic City.24 Trump has consistently denied all allegations.


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Having never been an elected official, Trump has no political accomplishments to his name. His business accomplishments are substantial, however, and he has estimated his net worth to be close to $9 billion.25 While Trump inherited a substantial fortune from his father, who had built a successful real estate empire, his own business skills and flair for promotion turned a bequest of tens of millions of dollars into billions.26

The issue most associated with Trump, that he helped bring to national attention, is the “birther” movement, which seeks to demonstrate that President Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States.27 In the early years of Obama’s presidency, Trump became a leading figure in the “birther” movement, appearing on TV and in other media regularly questioning the validity of the president’s citizenship and of his publicly available birth certificate.

Trump is a skilled communicator with a distinct style. He is frank and blunt, and frequently self-promoting. His extensive experience as a media entity, first as a businessman and later as a reality TV star and frequent political commentator and interview guest, make him roughly as experienced as many politicians in terms of communication skills and handling the media. Trump has, in the past several years, spoken regularly to conservative and Republican conferences, such as the Conservative Political Action Conference. He typically seems to connect well to the crowd he’s addressing.

His communication skills may far exceed his political skills, manners, and ability to build support for his candidacy, however. His support for the “birther” movement, a long history of controversial comments (including recently saying of a female candidate that she wasn’t attractive enough to be elected28), and engaging in an ongoing feud with prominent conservative media personalities and outlets all suggest a severe lack of political acumen and an inability to expand his support beyond those drawn to his celebrity and business background.

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Trump’s tax reform proposal, unveiled in late September 2015, would reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to four: 0 percent on income under $25,000 for an individual ($50,000 for a married couple) 10 percent on income between $25,001 – $50,000 ($50,001 – $100,000 for married couples), 20 percent on income $50,001 – $150,000 ($100,001 – $300,000 for married couples), and 25 percent on income beyond the $150,000 and $300,000 thresholds.29 He would also eliminate the inheritance tax and Alternative Minimum Tax, and lower corporate taxes to 15 percent from the current 35 percent.30 He would also impose a one-time tax of 10 percent on corporate profits currently held overseas, and future overseas profits could no longer be deferred.31

His plan would also reduce various deductions and exemptions, particularly for higher-income earners, as well as treating “carried interest” earned by investment managers as regular income.32 The deduction for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions would remain.33

Following the first week of 2016 and a decline of nearly 1,000 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average of stock prices, Trump said, “Wall Street has caused tremendous problems for us. We’re going to tax Wall Street.”34 It was not clear what, if any, new taxes he might have been referring to.

Trump’s plan is largely consistent with his rhetoric in recent years. In 2010, he supported the extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for all income brackets35 and he has supported the complete elimination of the corporate income tax in order to help spur job creation in America.36

He has generally opposed transitioning the U.S. income tax system to a flat tax, feeling that this system benefits the wealthy far too much,37 and has proposed in the past raising taxes on carried interest.

In 1999, he proposed implementing a one-time “net worth tax” of 14.25 percent on individuals and trusts worth more than $10 million, to be paid over 10 years, coupled with the repeal of the inheritance tax, to help pay off the national debt.38

Budget & Spending

Trump has mostly been critical of politicians’ refusal to cut spending and rein in the budget, but he only recently described specific areas where he would reduce spending, singling out the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency for cuts.39 He called the budget deal reached in 2011 “a joke,” adding that “eventually you have to balance the budget.”40 He has suggested that the GOP should have refused to raise the debt ceiling, stressing the political benefits of debt default would prevent Obama from being re-elected.41

He has also been critical of the sequestration budget cuts for only having slowed the growth in federal spending, adding “it’s not really a cut”42 and calling for more spending cuts to balance the budget.

His tax proposal, unveiled in late September 2015, is supposedly revenue-neutral and would not add to the deficit, although that depends on an assumption of 6 percent economic growth,43 which few consider to be realistic.


Trump’s business dealings have often brought him into conflict with organized labor. His Chicago development, Trump Tower Chicago, was picketed by the hotel workers union in 2008, angry that the hotel hadn’t signed an agreement to let it attempt to organize its workers.44 In 2014, the survival of Trump’s bankrupt Taj Mahal casino/hotel Atlantic City property was “staked” on winning a battle with the unions over “proposed cuts to their health and pension benefits” that included transitioning workers to 401(k)-style retirement programs and ending health benefits while moving workers to Obamacare exchanges.45 Trump Entertainment Group received court permission to break its union agreement for the Trump Taj Mahal on October 17, 2014, with unions announcing immediate plans to picket the property.46


He has announced that he opposes an increase in the minimum wage, arguing it would hurt U.S. economic competitiveness,47 and said that men and women should be paid the same for doing the same job but noted that it’s “very difficult to say what is the same job,”48 suggesting some skepticism about further legislation on the matter (it’s already illegal to pay men and women different wages for doing the same job).

Trump has been a frequent beneficiary of eminent domain, where the government has seized property (and compensated the owners) in order to build privately-owned developments.49 He recently defended the practice, calling it a “wonderful thing.”50

Energy & Environment

Trump has repeatedly expressed doubt as to the validity of climate change,51 including an interview with Breitbart News in September 2014 where he said “[t]axing everybody for climate change is absolutely ridiculous. Many people don’t even think there is such a thing as ‘climate change.’ It’s called weather.”52

In his 2011 book, Time to Get Tough, Trump criticized Obama’s embrace of cap-and-trade policy to combat climate change, saying the administration wanted “higher energy prices because they believe that will force America to drive less and businesses to slow down on production and transportation” and “drive energy prices sky                  high.”53

He has called for more drilling of oil in the U.S.54 and expressed his support for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to develop American oil and natural gas.55 He has supported construction of the Keystone XL pipeline,56 although in late October 2015 he suggested the U.S. should get a “better deal” from the company building the pipeline in exchange for allowing it to be built, saying that “Maybe we should get 10 per cent, 15 per cent, maybe 20 per cent as that oil flows,”57 apparently meaning the U.S. should impose a tariff on the oil that transits the pipeline.


Trump does not generally support free trade deals, specifically calling for “a 15% tax for outsourcing jobs and a 20% tax for importing goods”58 and renegotiating existing trade deals with other countries.”59 He has been critical of NAFTA60 and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which he said “will do next to nothing to even out the trade imbalance, will further erode American manufacturing and kill more American jobs, and will wipe away the tariffs South Korea presently pays us to sell their stuff in our country.”61

He has announced his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership,62 which in May 2015 he criticized for “not addressing the number one cause of the unfairness, which is the currency manipulation.”63 Trump also suggested he would seek a 45 percent tax on all imported goods from China.64

Health Care

Trump’s record on health care issues is inconsistent. He is a fervent critic of Obamacare”65 and in his 2011 book he said it would “destroy jobs & small businesses,” “explode health-care costs,” and “lead to health care that is far less innovative than it is today.”66

However, in Trump’s 2000 book, The America We Deserve, he argued “we must have universal healthcare,” and called for the U.S. “to make reforms for the moment and, longer term, to find an equivalent of the single-payer plan that is affordable.” He also described a health care marketplace system very similar to the concept of Obamacare exchanges: “It operates through a centralized agency that offers considerable range of choice. While this is a government program, it is also very much market-based. It allows 620 private insurance companies to compete for this market. Once a year participants can choose from plans which vary in benefits and costs.”67

In January 2016, Trump said he favored allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs,68 a longtime priority of Democrats. Most free-market analysts believe this action would effectively establish price controls and diminish research and development for new drugs.

He said, “I like the mandate,” referring to the requirement in Obamacare that most people obtain health insurance,69 although he later claimed he didn’t mean that.70

While Trump has offered very few specifics about what he would do on health care, he has suggested that the government would pay for the medical costs of low-income individuals, and he has repeatedly stated that nobody would “die in the streets” for lack of medical care under his plan.71 He has also endorsed allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines in order to promote competition72and said health savings accounts would be part of his plan as well.73

Trump has said he believes there is a link between autism and vaccines, a widely debunked theory.74

Entitlements & Welfare

Trump has called the food stamp program an “outrageously mismanaged government program” that despite being a “blatant waste” of tax money “doesn’t bother Obama, because it’s all part of his broader nanny-state agenda.”75

He has called for welfare-to-work requirements to be expanded, saying “[w]e need to take a page from the 1996 reform and do the same for other welfare programs. Benefits should have strings attached to them. After all, if it’s our money recipients are getting, we the people should have a say in how it’s spent.”76

Trump has also been inconsistent on making major changes to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

He has said that Social Security is “honoring a deal” not an “entitlement,” adding that “Social Security is here to stay” and we must “reform it, root out the fraud, make it more efficient, and ensure that the program is solvent.”77 He has called for at least partial privatization of Social Security, saying “[d]irecting Social Security funds into personal accounts invested in real assets would swell national savings, pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into jobs and the economy.”78

However, he has cautioned Republicans against making changes to these systems. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013, Trump said, “As Republicans, if you think you’re going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you’re going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen.”79

He has also pledged that he wouldn’t make changes to the systems, saying: “People have been paying in for years. They’re gonna cut Social Security. They’re gonna cut Medicare. They’re gonna cut Medicaid. I’m the one saying that’s saying I’m not gonna do that!”80


He has been critical of immigration in general. He has cautioned Americans that immigrants are “taking your jobs. You better be careful.”81 He has also warned that “half” of those in the country illegally are criminals,82 and drew a firestorm of criticism and protest during his announcement speech when he seemed to suggest many of the Mexicans coming into the country illegally were rapists and criminals.83

Trump has been critical of Republicans embracing and pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, calling it “a suicide mission”84 for the GOP and warning that they “will not get any of those votes no matter what you do.”85 He has stressed the importance of building a wall at the border,86 and accused Obama of breaking the law with his executive order on immigration.87

He has vowed to deport all illegal aliens currently in the U.S,88 which he predicts will take less than two years with “really good management,”89 and also said he will prevent remittances being made by illegals to their home countries.90 Most recently he has suggested that “birthright citizenship,” which grants U.S. citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants who are born in the U.S., should be ended,91 something most believe would require a constitutional amendment.

In a March 2016 debate, Trump appeared to soften his stance somewhat in regards to H-1B visas, which are given to skilled workers sponsored by American businesses. He said he was changing his position, which previously was that American employers should be required to offer jobs to Americans first, in order to bring in and keep highly skilled foreign workers that he said the U.S. needs.92 Shortly after the debate, however, he reversed himself again, vowing to crack down on what he termed “abuse” in the program.93

Banking & Finance

During the financial crisis, Trump said that the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, was “something that has to get done, because your financial system is most likely going to come to a halt if it does not.” He did, however, call the necessity of TARP a “pretty sad day for this country.”94 He has been critical of the impact of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation95 and called for it to be repealed.96

Trump has also expressed criticism of the Federal Reserve banking system. He has accused them of “creating phony numbers”97 and has said that it should “absolutely” be audited.98


Trump has said little directly about U.S. agriculture policy, although some in the farm community have expressed concerns that his immigration policies will have a negative impact on their ability to hire laborers to harvest crops.99

Corporate Welfare

He has been critical of the Obama administration’s subsidies to green energy companies, calling them a “massive government giveaway of billions and billions of taxpayers’ dollars,”100 but he spoke supportively of the government bailout of the automakers, saying in 2008 that “we cannot lose the auto companies,” and that we need to “have the big three,” and he “stands behind them 100%.”101 He did, however, criticize the auto bailouts later in 2012.102

In his business dealings, Trump has often benefited from corporate welfare. He built his real estate empire with the considerable help of tax breaks and federal financing.103 He has also benefited significantly from the government’s use of eminent domain to seize private property to facilitate his real estate developments.104 In 2012, Trump announced plans for a major film and TV studio in Florida, which could take advantage of the state’s 20 percent film tax credit.105

Trump also made a bid to become the new owner of the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills franchise, which included plans for a new Buffalo Bills stadium that would be built with public financing.106

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International Relations

While Trump has been vocal on a number of foreign policy issues, he has been vague as to what specifically he might do. In a September 2015 interview he explained his vagueness was intentional because “People can’t know exactly what your intentions are…you want to have a little guesswork for the enemy… I don’t want to broadcast my intentions.”107

He has criticized the Obama administration’s handling of Russia, saying that Vladimir Putin has “eaten Obama’s lunch, therefore our lunch, for a long period of time.”108 He contends that Putin is “playing [Obama] like nobody’s ever played him before,” calling it “quite embarrassing to watch it unfold.”109 He asserts “if Russia respected us they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing.”110 As to what he would do as president in dealing with Putin, he has simply said he would “get along” with him111 and when asked said “I wouldn’t care” whether Ukraine was invited to join NATO.

Trump has also criticized the Obama administration’s attempts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran”112 and advised U.S. negotiators to walk away from the table if they can’t get what they want.113

On Israel, Trump called Obama “Israel’s greatest enemy”114 and said Obama was the “worst thing that ever happened to Israel.”115

He also said he would be “neutral” between Israel and the Palestinians in attempting to broker a peace deal.116

Trump has spoken frequently, and critically, about China, warning the U.S. is losing economic power to China,117 and calling on the U.S. to crack down on China’s currency manipulation.118 He has recommended a 25 percent tariff on Chinese imports.119 He has said of China: “These are not our friends; these are our enemies.”120

Despite a generally hostile stance towards China, he has suggested he would like to see it take care of one problem for the U.S. in the region by making North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un “disappear.”121

Despite a generally hostile stance toward China, he has suggested he would like to see it take care of one problem for the U.S. in the region by making North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un “disappear.”122

Trump has called on the U.S. to eliminate foreign aid to other nations.123

War on Terror

Trump has spoken hawkishly on the war on terror. He has pledged “nobody would be tougher” than him in dealing with ISIS, promising that he would “hit them so hard and so fast that they wouldn’t know what happened.”124 He asserted that he has a plan to defeat ISIS, but won’t yet reveal the details of the plan.125 He also said he would “take out their families,”126 referring to killing the families of ISIS terrorists, reiterating his support for such a policy during the December 2015 GOP debate.127

Following a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., in December 2015, Trump proposed a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States either as tourists or immigrants,128 and he suggested in an interview that he may have supported the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II if he had been president.129

He recommended against the U.S. becoming involved in the conflict in Syria, saying, “Wouldn’t you think maybe it’s time to stay out of one of these?” He has also recommended letting ISIS destroy Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, then going in to Syria and taking out ISIS there.130 He initially said the U.S. should take in some Syrian refugees without specifying how many,131 but he has since reversed himself over concerns terrorists could infiltrate the refugees and come to the United States.132 He pledged to deport any Syrian refugees who arrive in the U.S. during President Obama’s term,133 and he also suggested “safe zones” in Syria might be the best option for refugees.134

Trump has been critical of the Iraq War. He has said he “would have never been in Iraq,”135 and has said “those who supported the Iraq War are ‘unqualified’ to be commander-in-chief,”136 although he is on record supporting an invasion of Iraq in 2002 when he was asked about it. He has said that he may have supported it at one point but had come to oppose it by the time it began.137 In 2011 he suggested U.S. troops should remain in Iraq and “take the oil” as compensation for American lives lost and funds spent on the war.138 He has made similar statements regarding seizing Libya’s oil and bombing Iraqi oil fields held by ISIS to deprive the terrorist group of revenue.139

In late October 2015, Trump said the world would be better off if both Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi were still in power instead of having been forcibly deposed by the U.S. and allies,140 and although he has said recently he did not favor U.S. intervention in Libya, his 2011 comments on the subject clearly indicate he supported the Obama administration’s actions in helping to overthrow the dictator.141

After initially calling the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan a “terrible mistake” in early October 2015, Trump quickly reversed his position and said Afghanistan was “where we should have gone,” presumably meaning the U.S. should have focused on Afghanistan and not invaded Iraq.142 He agrees with President Obama’s plan to keep at least 5,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through early 2017.143

Trump appears to have misstated his earlier position on U.S. involvement in Libya, which he now claims to have opposed. In 2011 he said, “Now we should go in. We should stop this guy which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it and save these lives. … These people are being slaughtered like animals. … We should do it on a humanitarian basis. Immediately go into Libya, knock this guy out very quickly, very surgically, very effectively and save the lives.” In a February 2016 debate, however, Trump said he had never spoken about Libya before and indicated he had never supported U.S. involvement.144

Trump has also criticized the Obama administration’s attempts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran”145 and advised U.S. negotiators to walk away from the table if they can’t get what they want.146 After an agreement was reached, Trump said it was a “disastrous deal” but said he wouldn’t try to end it as president but would instead try to “work with it.”147

He has voiced support for the Patriot Act and legislation that allows the NSA to hold what is known as metadata, essentially the phone records (but not the content) of calls made in the U.S.148 Trump has endorsed the use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique, as well as “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”149 He also suggested that the U.S. would have to shut down some American mosques where “some bad things are happening.”150

Trump has urged his supporters to boycott Apple over that company’s decision not to assist the FBI in decrypting the iPhone of one of the terrorists involved in the 2015 San Bernardino attack.

Military Preparedness & Budget

In his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, Trump criticized the 3 percent of GDP level of funding for the military as “too low,” adding, “Defense spending in the last year of the Carter administration came to 4.9% of GDP. During the Reagan buildup it was 6.5%.”151 He also criticized the sequestration cuts to military spending,152

and pledged a large buildup of the military under his presidency, although he did not specify details.153 He did not appear to know that the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal has three separate components (bombers, land-based missiles, and submarine-based missiles) when the subject was raised at the December 2015 GOP debate.154

He said he favors subsidizing private health care for veterans instead of forcing them to wait for Veterans Administration care,155 and in late October 2015 he offered a specific plan for addressing health care for veterans.156 The main element of his plan include giving veterans the ability to visit any doctor or health facility that accepts Medicare, as well as increasing funding for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders, brain injuries, and suicide prevention.157 He also pledges to crack down on corruption, waste and inefficiencies at the Veterans Administration.158

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Judiciary & Crime

Trump has had little occasion to comment on judicial nominees until recently, but his sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, is a senior U.S. Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Trump said that his sister would be a “phenomenal” Supreme Court Justice,159 although it’s not clear how serious he was in that assessment. She was appointed as a district court judge by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 and to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit by President Bill Clinton.160 She authored an opinion striking down a New Jersey law banning the late-term procedure known as partial-birth abortion as unconstitutional.161 In 2006, Barry testified in support of Justice Samuel Alito — her colleague from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit — in his nomination to the Supreme Court.162

Trump has spoken critically of President George W. Bush’s choice of John Roberts for chief justice of the United States, noting that it was Roberts who authored the Supreme Court opinion that saved Obamacare.163 Reacting to the Supreme Court’s opinion on Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex marriage), Trump said “once again the Bush appointed Supreme Court Justice John Roberts has let us down.” This statement has caused some confusion because Roberts sided with the minority, dissenting from the majority’s opinion on the case.164

In his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, Trump warned that “unless we stand up for tough anticrime policies, they will be replaced by policies that emphasize criminals’ rights over those of ordinary citizens.”165 He supports the death penalty.166

Trump supports legalizing drugs, saying, “You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”167 He has suggested that legalized drugs be taxed, and the resulting tax revenue be used to fund anti-drug educational campaigns.168


Trump said that as president he would sign an executive order mandating the death penalty in cases where police officers have been murdered,169 which would seem to overstep the authority of the presidency and violate the role states have in seeking penalties for non-federal crimes.

Free Speech & Religious Liberty

In potentially troubling comments regarding religious liberty, Trump suggested that the federal government could shut down some mosques as part of an effort to fight terrorism, similar to what the United Kingdom has done.170 He qualified his statement by suggesting such closures may not be legal (and presumably he would not then attempt them) and that they would only be used at mosques that were “loaded for bear,”171 although it’s unclear if that means actively involved in supporting terrorist attacks or engaging in religious speech generally seen as extreme. He later reiterated his view that some mosques where “some really bad things are happening” would need to be shut down.172

Trump has said Christians are “being treated horribly because we have nobody to represent the Christians. Believe me, if I run and I win, I will be the greatest representative of the Christians they’ve had in a long time.”173 He said churches that engage in political activity should not lose their tax-exempt status.174

Trump has said the Kentucky county clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses following the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage should try to find a different job or at least allow others in her office to issue the licenses, saying “I embrace both sides of the argument.”175

In other troubling comments on the First Amendment, Trump vowed to “open up our libel laws so when [newspapers] write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,”176 suggesting he would use libel laws to silence or chill the speech of his media critics.

Trump has suggested he views contributions to candidates as an effective way to buy access, influence, and favorable decisions,177 but has otherwise been quiet in recent years about limits on campaign contributions and political speech. In his 2000 book The America We Deserve he favored a ban on soft-money contributions to political parties, opposed contribution limits, and supported “full and fast” disclosure of campaign contributions.178


Trump opposes Common Core, saying, “[P]eople don’t want to have somebody from Washington looking down and saying this is what you’re going to be studying.”179 He supports school choice and recommends competition to improve public education,180 and he favors eliminating the Department of Education.181

Regarding college student loans Trump has said he would restructure the program and eliminate government profits from the process, without providing any other details.182

Social Issues

Trump says he is opposed to gun control183 and has been a concealed-carry permit holder for at least 30 years.184 Speaking to Breitbart News in 2015, he stressed “[i]t is so important that we maintain the Second Amendment and that we maintain it strongly. … It is absolutely imperative that we maintain the Second Amendment in its strongest form.”185 In a 2015 interview he said he opposes both expanded background checks on private firearm sales and restrictions on the number of bullets that can be held in a gun magazine,186 and in 2014 he was one of the featured speakers at an Albany, N.Y., rally against gun control.187

He recently proposed allowing concealed carry permits issued in one state to be valid in all 50 states, and also called for ending all gun and magazine bans.188 The latter represents a shift in his position, as in his 2000 book The America We Deserve, Trump wrote he supported “the ban on assault weapons.”189 During a March 2016 debate he reiterated his opposition to an assault weapon ban.190

He also favored “a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun,”191 and it’s unclear if he has shifted his position on this issue. He said he would consider a ban on gun purchases by those on government terrorist watch lists,192 something opposed by most gun-rights advocates because the lists are often inaccurate and violate due-process rights.

Trump used to be pro-choice but changed his mind and became pro-life several years ago.193 He explained his shift as the result of several personal stories, telling an interviewer “They changed me. Yeah, they changed my view as to that, absolutely.” He would allow exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother.194

On same-sex marriage Trump has consistently said he favors the traditional definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman,195 and he seemed to criticize the Supreme Court’s decision in the case when he said Chief Justice Roberts had “let us down,” although Roberts actually was in the minority and voted against granting same-sex marriage constitutional protection.196 He has called it a “states-rights issue.”197

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Vulnerabilities dropdown arrow

From a long public life as a celebrity, businessman and TV star, Trump has many vulnerabilities stemming from controversial statements and actions throughout his public life.

Trump was a leading figure in the emergence of the “birther” movement, which questioned whether Obama was a natural-born citizen and thus, whether he was eligible to be president. Trump has been quoted as saying that there’s “a very big chance” Obama was born outside of the U.S. and lied about being born in Kenya to get into college.198 He has also speculated that Obama won’t release the birth certificate because, “there is something on that birth certificate — maybe religion, maybe it says he’s a Muslim, I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that. Or, he may not have one.”199 He reiterated his uncertainty over Obama’s birthplace as recently as July 2015.200

Trump has suggested that vaccines201 are a cause of autism, despite there being no scientific support for this theory.202

In 2009 he publicly endorsed a nutritional supplement and testing company that had re-branded itself through a licensing deal as the Trump Network. The products sold by the company are, according to nutritional experts, of dubious value, and the health claims made by the company don’t hold up under scientific scrutiny.203

Often, Trump has become involved in nasty public feuds with other celebrities. These have included:

  • Calling Arianna Huffington “ugly both inside and out”204 and saying that her husband leaving her was “a good decision”205
  • Calling Cher a “total loser”206 and slammed her “massive plastic surgeries”207
  • Calling Mark Cuban an “arrogant, crude, dope”208 and a “loser”209

Trump had a notably nasty and protracted dustup with TV show host Rosie O’Donnell, during which he said, “Rosie is a very unattractive woman, both inside and out. And as hard as it is to believe, inside is probably uglier than outside, and that’s really saying something. But you have to understand, I know Rosie. Rosie’s a loser. Rosie’s been pulling the wool over people’s eyes for a long time. She is a stone cold loser.”210

Trump has also been accused of racism in business practices and making racist comments.

In 1973, he was sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination,211 when it alleged that his New York real estate company had discriminated against several black renters.212 Former President of Trump Hotel & Casino John R. O’Donnell claimed in a book that Trump said to him, “[L]aziness is a trait in blacks” and “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”213 Trump has denied the charges, saying O’Donnell was a disgruntled employee.214

Trump’s marital history and various comments regarding women may be troubling to some voters. His first marriage to Ivana Trump ended when news media revealed his affair with Marla Maples.215 While Maples and Trump married shortly after the dissolution of Trump’s first marriage, they were divorced only a few years later.216 He was quoted saying of the female contestants on his TV show The Apprentice: “All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me — consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”217

His decision to renege on a commitment to pay for the medical treatment of his nephew’s son, born with cerebral palsy, as part of a dispute regarding his father’s will218 is likely to be used against him on the campaign trail.

His companies have often faced financial trouble, with four of Trump’s business entities having filed for bankruptcy protection during his career.219 He also defaulted on loans made to Trump Airlines in the late 1980s.220 He has failed to release his tax returns despite promising repeatedly he would do so, saying that frequent IRS audits prevent him from being able to reveal them.221

In 2002, the SEC filed brought a financial reporting case accusing Trump of committing several “misleading statements in the companies third-quarter 1999 earnings release.” The matter was settled without Trump’s company admitting or denying the charge.222

Trump has also faced scrutiny and criticism over Trump University, a company offering high-priced real-estate investment seminars. Multiple lawsuits have been filed by participants and government attorneys, and it appears many of the promises made in promotional material were false. It has been called a “bait and switch … scam” by the New York attorney general.223

Trump lacks the discipline most candidates have in terms of avoiding controversial statements, such as his comments regarding Mexican illegal immigrants being “rapists.” On the one hand his admirers are drawn to his unvarnished speaking style but it also can repel many voters, particularly those who count themselves as members of groups targeted by Trump’s incendiary comments. One of the key themes of Trump’s campaign has been opposition to illegal immigration and protecting U.S. workers from foreign competitors, but his own use of illegal immigrants in the construction of the Trump Tower224 and hiring foreign employees to come to the U.S. under a visa program for temporary workers225 may be used against him.

Trump has been consistently vague on a large number of policy topics – declining to offer specific proposals or ideas, using euphemistic language that has little real meaning, or getting key details wrong. For example, he has said allowing Medicare to directly negotiate prescription drug prices would save $300 billion per year, when that is more than the entire country spends on drugs each year.226 He also said he would send “cease and desist” letters to China and Mexico to tell them to stop “ripping off” the U.S., even though that phrase has no real meaning.227 To date, his unwillingness or inability to delve into policy details has not been a problem for him, but at some point voters may expect more information or a better grasp of policy details.

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