Hours after the Associated Press reported that, by its tally, Donald Trump had clinched the Republican presidential nomination, the billionaire former reality television star held a press conference in North Dakota that highlighted many of the reasons longtime members of the GOP are still deeply worried about him.
For one, in a state where the shale oil boom has been an economic godsend, Trump was asked about the Keystone XL pipeline, which the Obama administration rejected last November after letting it linger for years in regulatory limbo.
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Trump said he would approve the construction of the controversial element of the pipeline, which comes into the U.S. from Canada and snakes across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska before joining up with an existing pipeline. But he had a condition.
“I will absolutely approve it, but I want a better deal,” he said, in response to a reporter’s question. “I’m gonna say, ‘Folks, we’re going to let you build the pipeline, but give us a piece.’”
He continued, “I want the Keystone pipeline, but the people of the United States should be given a piece, a significant piece, of the profits.”
Trump went on, “Most politicians would say yes we’ll approve it or no we won’t. I’m saying yes, we will absolutely approve it, I want it built. But I want a piece of the profits because we’re making it possible for it to happen through eminent domain and other things, I want a piece of the profit for the United States. That’s how we’re going to make our country rich again.
That stance is, to put it mildly, surprising.
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First of all, the federal government isn’t in the business of shaking down private businesses for a share of their profits in exchange for favorable treatment. There’s another entity with that business model, but its leaders don’t announce their plans in press conferences.
Additionally, suggesting that the government share in the profits of a business it would also be in charge of regulating for safety and compliance with environmental regulations creates some pretty dubious incentives.
Finally, the idea that the government should target a specific project as a source of extra cash, either through some sort of unprecedented profit-sharing arrangement or through another targeted assessment, which would amount to a company-specific tax, has got to be pretty terrifying to free-market Republicans in general.
In the course of his speech, Trump hit a few more lowlights.
He contradicted his campaign manager and chief strategist, Paul Manafort, who said earlier today that Trump would probably not pick a woman or a minority as his vice president because it would be seen as pandering.
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Not the case, Trump said, promising that many women would be included in the process. Whether minorities would also be in the mix was unclear.
He suggested that Manafort’s statement had been reported incorrectly. “He’s been misquoted a lot,” Trump added, which seemed an odd thing to say about someone who is a regular spokesperson for the campaign across various media.
For those worried about Trump’s slapdash approach to foreign policy, he blithely waved off criticism from President Obama, who said while traveling in Asia this week that other foreign leaders were “rattled” by the tone of Trump’s campaign.
“If they’re rattled in a friendly way that’s a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump said.
And for those still concerned that Trump’s tone on the campaign trail is still somewhat short of presidential, he took another opportunity to refer to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of his loudest Democratic critics, as “Pocahontas,” in reference to her claim to be part Native American, and to accuse her of having a “big mouth.”
After a journalist in the room informed Trump that the “Pocahontas” reference was offensive, Trump, speaking in a state with a very large Native American population, promptly used the word again.
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He also defended his decision to dredge up the utterly discredited claim that Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton may have had something to do with the death of former White House lawyer Vince Foster. Trump claimed that it wasn’t something he wanted to bring up, and insisted that he mentioned it because it was brought up by questioners in a Washington Post interview.
Trump has said in the past that he planned to become “more presidential” once he won the Republican nomination, but on the day when he first looked to have truly clinched it, he didn’t look ready to make that transition.