Trump's actions as president are remarkably consistent with his infamous campaign kickoff speech

Donald Trump rides an escalator to a press event announcing his candidacy for presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015, in New York City.
Source: Christopher Gregory/Getty Images
Donald Trump rides an escalator to a press event announcing his candidacy for presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015, in New York City.
Source: Christopher Gregory/Getty Images

In hindsight, it is clear that on June 16, 2015, Trump Tower was not the site of some odd performance art. No, when then-reality TV host and business mogul Donald Trump descended an escalator and announced his candidacy for president to a small crowd of paid actors, he was serious.

In the 75 years — er, 21 months — that have since passed, the speech is primarily remembered for his inflammatory statement about Mexicans. But while it's easy, and perhaps accurate, to blame many of Trump's current positions on Steve Bannon, looking back at his kickoff speech shows that many of Trump's controversial positions predate Bannon's role in the campaign. 

Visitors look at outdoor backpacks on display at the International Trade Show for Mountain and Winter Technologies in Beijing, China.
Source: Andy Wong/AP

China and free trade

Then: Trump has taken a tough tone on China since day one. According to a transcript of his announcement speech in Time, he used the U.S.-China relationship as an example of U.S. stupidity: "When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let's say, China in a trade deal?" He connected China to the loss of American jobs: "They don't talk jobs and they don't talk China. When was the last time you heard China is killing us?" Trump even said, "You have a problem with ISIS. You have a bigger problem with China." 

His solution at the time? A 35% import tariff. Trump also emphasized that he would "renegotiate our foreign trade deals."

Now: Trump kicked off his presidency by signing an executive order ending American participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the most significant free trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement. Such an agreement with the European Union is extraordinarily unlikely, and Trump continues to talk about renegotiating existing foreign trade deals. He's also taken an aggressive stand on China — and while the exact number has changed, the idea of an import tax is still being floated.

Members of the U.S. Navy and shipyard workers watch as Marine One lands on the deck of USS Gerald R. Ford CVN 78.
Source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The role of the U.S. military

Then: It wasn't widely reported at the time, but Trump thought the United States should have taken Iraq's oil as far back as that first speech: "They  [Islamic terrorists] took the oil that, when we left Iraq, I said we should've taken." 

Trump also said America should extort money from Saudi Arabia in exchange for protection: "What are we doing? They've got nothing but money. If the right person asked them, they'd pay a fortune. They wouldn't be there except for us." Trump spoke up about the need for increased defense spending and for nuclear modernization. 

He said, incorrectly, "Even our nuclear arsenal doesn't work. It came out recently they have equipment that is 30 years old. They don't know if it worked."

Now: Thankfully, Trump has not ordered the military to steal other people's natural resources — an order in violation of the Geneva Convention that military officers would have an obligation to refuse — but he continues to insist, as recently as January, it should have. 

His administration has also taken steps to reassure nervous allies that he will not abandon nor extort them. Trump is following through on his implied promise to increase the military budget and embark on nuclear modernization. 

A girl stands holding a sign alongside supporters of the Affordable Care Act.
Source: Brennan Linsley/AP

The Affordable Care Act

Then: Trump is certainly not a fan of the ACA. Much of his kickoff speech was devoted to what he referred to as "a disaster called the big lie: Obamacare." He said, "We have to repeal Obamacare ... and it can be replaced with something much better for everybody."

Now: Trump never abandoned nor moderated his position that the ACA would need to be repealed and replaced. "Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act is at the top of his agenda," CNN reported in February.

The question of whether the proposal from Republicans will be better for "everybody" really depends on your definition of "everybody." If everybody is CEO of an insurance company, then Trump will have lived up to his pledge. 

Immigration and "the wall"

A truck carrying a Minuteman III nuclear missile is escorted by a security convoy on its way to a missile silo at F.E. Warren Air Force Base.
Source: Eric Draper/AP

Then: If there is one inanimate object associated with the current U.S. president, it is a wall: "I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me ... I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall." 

He argued a wall was necessary because Mexico doesn't send "their best" people to the United States. His alluded to his later focus on "extreme vetting" when he said immigration was "coming from all over South and Latin America, and it's coming probably — probably — from the Middle East. But we don't know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don't know what's happening." 

And, in a statement probably referring to former President Barack Obama's executive order protecting parents of young U.S. citizens from being deported, Trump said he would "immediately terminate President Obama's illegal executive order on immigration."

Now: Trump has never wavered in his opposition to immigration. In his first week in the White House, he issued an executive order banning immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries. After legal challenges, he issued a revised order Monday exempting green-card holders and removing Iraq from the list of banned countries. 

Trump also reportedly threatened to send troops into Mexico and issued an order to build his much-discussed wall

If anything, his policies have been more extreme than anticipated. One proposal being considered would separate children from their parents if they cross the border illegally. 

Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, flanked by his sons, Donald Trump Jr. (left) and Eric Trump, listens as daughter Ivanka Trump speaks during the grand opening of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Source: Evan Vucci/AP

Odd and miscellaneous statements

Then: Trump briefly touched on other policies in the opening salvo of his war on the American spirit. He said the country should "end Common Core," a set of academic standards for U.S. public school curriculum. Of infrastructure, Trump said America was "becoming a third-world country, because of our infrastructure, our airports, our roads, everything." 

About the stock market, he said, "Believe me, we're in a bubble ... We have a stock market that, frankly, has been good to me, but I still hate to see what's happening. We have a stock market that is so bloated." 

And he took the time to mention the hotel he was building in Washington, D.C, "You know, we're building on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Old Post Office, we're converting it into one of the world's great hotels. It's gonna be the best hotel in Washington, D.C."

Now: Trump has proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure package, though it appears to have been tabled until 2018. His secretary of education's position on Common Core is unclear. Trump has, of course, changed his tune on the stock market and now takes credit for its good performance.

Last but not least, there's the Trump International Hotel in Washington. It's still the apple of Trump's eye and the jewel in his crown. It's also the new political center of "the swamp."

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Jonathan Cristol

Dr. Jonathan Cristol is a fellow at the World Policy Institute (www.worldpolicy.org). He is also a senior fellow at the Center for Civic Engagement at Bard College (www.bard.edu), where for many years he was a professor of international affairs and director of Bard's Globalization and International Affairs Program. Dr. Cristol is an independent advisor/expert at Duco, a global affairs, policy, technology, and security consulting firm (www.ducoexperts.com).

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