New York billionaire Donald Trump likes to say “we’re a poor country now,” that the United States gave Iran $150 billion as part of the agreement to curb its nuclear weapons program, and “we get paid peanuts” to station troops in South Korea.
Well, that’s not exactly right. While Trump’s most ardent supporters do not seem troubled, political analysts believe his exaggerated and outright inaccurate statements complicate his efforts to expand his base of voters.
“The standards other candidates have to live up to are thrown out the window,” said John Brabender, an aide to longtime Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
Because Trump has won enthusiastic support from a group of voters who have believed “for too long they have been disenfranchised” and are convinced Trump “will change the status quo,” he is “held to a different” standard than a “traditional candidate because they don’t see him as a traditional candidate,” Brabender said.
Here are just a handful of Trump’s dubious claims:
- In an interview with the Washington Post editorial board on March 21, Trump declared “we (once) were a very powerful, very wealthy country. And we’re a poor country now. We’re a debtor nation.”
By any measurement, the United States is the richest nation in the world. According to a report released last month by the World Bank, the United States gross domestic product in 2014 was $17.4 trillion compared to $10.3 trillion for China. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects U.S. gross domestic product — which is total output of goods and services — will increase to $27.7 trillion by 2026.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the unemployment rate in February was 4.9 percent as more than 151 million Americans have jobs. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2014, median household income is nearly $53,657 a year while the household income for a family was $68,426 a year. But it also true median household income plunged after the 2008 financial collapse and has not entirely recovered.
Trump is correct that the federal government is in debt. According to the CBO, the government during the next decade is projected to add $9.4 trillion to the publicly held debt, which is money owed to foreign and domestic investors of treasury bills and other government notes.
- In a speech to his supporters on March 15, Trump sarcastically criticized President Barack Obama for the deal to curb Iran’s hopes of building a nuclear device, saying “it’s wonderful. We give them $150 billion, we get nothing.”
Trump was referring to last year’s agreement between Iran and a coalition of the United States, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, France, and China to prevent Tehran from building a nuclear device during the next 15 years.
In fact, the money is not America’s, but roughly $100 billion in Iranian assets frozen outside the country due to international sanctions. The State Department said last week only $50 billion is available because the other $50 billion has been committed to projects or debts. In return, Iran has pledged not to build a nuclear device, give up 97 percent of its enriched uranium and yield thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
Republican critics have expressed deep skepticism that Iran will keep its word. But Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in a White House briefing last year that “nothing in this deal is based on trust. Everything in this deal is based on verification and certainty that we will know what they are doing.” Although the deal is still opposed by many in Congress, the statement that “we get nothing” is a bit of an exaggeration.
- In a telephone interview with the New York Times on March 25, Trump said “the problems I have with NATO. No. 1, we pay far too much. … NATO is unfair. … Because it really helps them more so than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share.”
The United States last year devoted 3.6 percent of its gross domestic product for defense and spends more on defense than any country in the world. But not all that money finances U.S. forces in Europe. Last year, only Great Britain, Poland, Estonia, and Greece met the NATO minimum of spending at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense.
“Donald Trump does not understand alliance politics in detail, but he has touched a nerve by pointing out America spends so much more on the common defense than its allies do,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer for the Lexington Institute, a non-profit defense organization in suburban Washington. “Really, it’s a scandal.”
- In a town hall meeting last week on CNN, Trump suggested he would not oppose Japan and South Korea developing nuclear weapons to protect them from North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. During a January interview on CNN, Trump complained the U.S. had 28,000 troops in South Korea and “we get paid nothing. We get paid peanuts.”
It has been U.S. policy throughout the postwar period to prevent South Korea and Japan from developing nuclear weapons. Instead, the United States has provided security guarantees to both countries to prevent a destabilizing quest for nuclear weapons in Asia.
Since the Korean War ended in 1953, the United States has maintained troops in South Korea, although that number has declined to just 28,000 today. In 2014, South Korea provided $866 million to pay for roughly half the U.S. presence, an increase of 5.8 percent from the previous year.
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