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How Clinton and Trump compare on the big issues of 2016

Helping you decide.


Aaron Sankin


Posted on Jun 23, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 1:43 pm CDT

Now that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former reality TV star Donald Trump are the presumptive nominees for the two major political parties, the election can finally drill down to substantive policy issues.

Well, it probably won’t. But, you know, it could.

To help make your 2016 election decision a little bit easier, the Daily Dot is releasing a series of articles looking at where the two candidates stand on a whole range of issues, from climate change to tax policy. We’ve condensed our research into a single piece. Click on the section titles for the articles we’ve published so far to get a more in-depth look at where Trump and Clinton stand on the most pressing issues facing America today.

Tax Reform: Trump

Trump’s plan for tax reform can be essentially be boiled down to a single sentence: Cut taxes for everyone, but mostly for the rich. Judging solely by his tax plan, despite Trump’s tendency toward populism, the businessman is a supply-sider at heart.

Trump’s tax reform plan would exempt all individuals making under $25,000, and all households under $50,000, from paying any federal income taxes. It would slim the current system of seven tax brackets down to four, lowering rates for everybody, and eliminate the marriage penalty, the estate tax, and the Alternative Minimum Tax. 

It would also close a number of controversial tax loopholes—such as the carried interest loophole that many Wall Street and Silicon Valley executives use to dramatically reduce their tax bills. The corporate tax rate would be slashed from 35 percent down to 15 percent, and companies hoarding funds overseas would be given a one-time tax holiday with a 10 percent rate encouraging them to bring that money back into the U.S. for reinvestment.

While taxes would go down for everyone, Trump’s proposed reforms are most beneficial to the very rich. The bottom 10 percent of American households would see their incomes rise by 0.6 percent, whereas the top 10 percent would get a 21.6 percent boost.

Trump claims his plan is revenue-neutral, but an assessment by the non-partisan Tax Foundation estimated that it would reduce government revenues by more than $10 trillion over the next decade, while boosting GDP by 11 percent. A similar analysis by the Tax Policy Center estimated that, unless combined with enormous spending cuts well beyond the realm of political reality, Trump’s plan would increase the national debt by 80 percent of GDP, “offsetting some or all of the incentive effects of the tax cuts.”

Tax Reform: Clinton

Like much of Clinton’s policy agenda, her tax plan is incremental rather than sweeping. It’s objectives aren’t dramatically different than the priorities of President Barack Obama when it comes to taxation—increasing the tax burden paid by the rich to fund social programs largely aimed at the poor and middle class—although the Clinton campaign is reportedly working on a second tax plan centered around a middle-class tax cut.

The biggest change to the system contained in Clinton’s proposed tax reform package is a 4 percent surtax applied to all households earning over $5 million a year. This change would effectively create a new top marginal tax bracket paying a rate of 43.6 percent. Clinton would also increase the estate tax; cap itemized deductions at 28 percent; close the carried interest loophole; and enact the “Buffet Rule,” which creates a 30 percent tax floor for individuals making more than $1 million a year. All of these changes are aimed at increasing the amount wealthy individuals are forced to pay, while also making it more difficult for them to evade taxation.

Projections about how much additional revenue will be brought in by Clinton’s plan vary significantly. The Tax Foundation predicts a $191 billion boost over the next decade, combined with a 1 percent reduction in GDP. However, the Tax Policy Center predicts the increase in government revenue under the Clinton plan to be more like $1.1 trillion.

Gun Control: Trump

Prior to kicking off his presidential run, Trump was relatively ambivalent on the issue of gun control. In a book he published in 2000, The America We Deserve, the real estate mogul wrote that he was generally against gun control but was willing to make exceptions when it came to an ban on assault weapons and extending waiting times for gun purchases.

He also labeled both sides of the debate too inflexible in their positions. “Nobody has a good solution,” he wrote. “This is another issue where you see the extremes of the two existing major parties. Democrats want to confiscate all guns, which is a dumb idea because only law-abiding citizens would turn in their guns and the bad guys would be the only ones left armed. The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions.”

In 2012, when Obama called for expanding gun control rules in the wake of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Trump approvingly tweeted about the president’s efforts, which were ultimately unable to surmount the anti-gun-control sentiment in Congress.

However, when running for president himself, Trump has become just as inflexible on gun rights as the Republicans he once derided. “The Second Amendment to our Constitution is clear. The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed upon. Period,” reads a message on Trump’s website.

Trump has come out against the ban on assault weapons he once advocated. He is also pushing for the elimination of gun-free zones, a block on expanding the use of background checks, and increasingly the prevalence of “stand your ground” laws around the country that allow citizens to use deadly force whenever they feel threatened.

The only area in which Trump has deviated from anti-gun-control orthodoxy espoused by the NRA is that he believes people on the FBI‘s terrorist watch list shouldn’t be able to purchase firearms. However, this area of disagreement wasn’t a dealbreaker for the NRA, which officially endorsed Trump shortly after he became the GOP’s presumptive nominee.

Gun Control: Clinton 

As the NRA has embraced Trump, the group has long held Clinton to be its public enemy number one. As a senator, Clinton received the NRA’s lowest possible grade based on her voting record. In her bruising primary fight with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), Clinton ran hard to the left of the self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” on gun control, bringing the issue to the forefront of a Democratic primary campaign for the first time in a generation.

As First Lady, she publicly advocated for the passage of the Brady Bill, the most consequential piece of gun control legislation to make it through Congress in decades. Virtually across the spectrum of issues related to gun control, Clinton has backed stronger regulations. She’s in favor of cracking down on online gun sales, ending rules shielding gun manufacturers from liability in how their products are used, and upping the federal legal age of handgun ownership from 18 to 21.

Even so, there are some areas where she’s backed away from an inflexible hard line. During her 2000 Senate run, Clinton called for centralized, national registry for all guns in the United States. But eight years later, during her unsuccessful primary run against Obama, she backed off that position in favor of letting each individual state make the decision about gun registration for itself.

“I think again we’re way out of balance. I think that we’ve got to rein in what has become an almost article of faith that anybody can have a gun, anywhere, anytime,” Clinton said during a 2014 speech in front of the National Council for Behavioral Health. “And I don’t believe that is in the best interest of the vast majority of people. And I think you can say that and still support the right of people to own guns.”

Climate Change: Trump

In 2009, Trump signed onto an open letter to President Obama that ran as a full-page ad in the New York Times. “We support your effort to ensure meaningful and effective measures to combat climate change, an immediate challenge facing the United States and the world today,” it read. “Please don’t postpone the Earth. If we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.”

The Trump who once professed that climate change is a dire threat worthy of urgent action was nowhere to be found three years later, when he tweeted about it being a giant conspiracy created by the Chinese government.

Climate change skepticism has become a hallmark of Trump’s presidential campaign, much as it has for every GOP presidential nominee since Arizona Sen. John McCain ran on a platform that accepted the global scientific consensus on climate change in 2008. “I think the biggest form of climate change we should worry about is nuclear weapons,” Trump told the Washington Post in an interview earlier this year. “The biggest risk to the world, to me—I know President Obama thought it was climate change—to me the biggest risk is nuclear weapons. That is climate change. That is a disaster.”

Trump’s main qualm with climate change, along with most environmental protections is that they’re bad for business. As president, Trump said, he would cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency to keep federal regulators from enforcing rules that could hamper economic productivity.

As the same time, Trump has personally been willing to back environmental causes when it’s in his financial interest to do so. He has an investment stake in NextEra Engery, one of the world’s largest producers of renewable energy. and Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Ireland built a seawall with the explicit purpose of preparing for “global warming and its effects.”

Climate Change: Clinton

Like most Democrats, Clinton is a believer in anthropogenic climate change. In a post on her campaign website, she calls it “an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.”

During her term in the Senate, Clinton voted in favor of bills to reduce pollution and incentivize the development of clean energy sources. Her campaign platform includes a plan to launch a $60 billion “Clean Energy Challenge” doling out grants to municipalities with innovative ideas about how to make their communities green.

Clinton’s rhetoric may be considerably green than Trump’s, but she’s never been Washington’s foremost environmental crusader. While, on one hand, she voted against an amendment on a bill that would have lifted a moratorium on drilling for oil and natural gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, she also backed efforts to lift a similar moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

During her tenure as secretary of state, environmentalists slammed Clinton for her strong advocacy on behalf of energy companies using fracking—both domestically and abroad. She also dinged activists for initially throwing her support behind the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried crude oil from Canadian tar sands all the way south to the Texas Gulf Coast. Environmentalists argued the pipeline would have encouraged more drilling, which would have negative effects on the climate. Clinton ultimately came out against the pipeline, but only after leaving her role at the State Department.

Defeating ISIS: Trump

The very essence of Trump’s foreign policy can be summed up in two words:

America First was a movement was arose in years preceding World War II. Its adherents argued the United States should negotiate with Adolph Hitler and the Axis powers rather than get directly involved in the conflict. While the movement’s message was tarred by the antisemitism of its most high-profile proponent, famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, its underlying isolationist philosophy of only intervening overseas in case of a dire threat to the homeland (rather than for reasons of humanitarianism, such as stopping an ongoing genocide), never entirely went away.

Trump has largely called for pulling back from America’s military involvements around the globe, even publicly pondering a withdrawal from long-term strategic defense agreements like NATO. While a radio interview uncovered by Buzzfeed proves his claim of not supporting the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq was less than truthful, Trump’s never been a particularly enthusiastic cheerleader of American military adventurism.

Nevertheless, Trump’s proposed policy for dealing with the Islamic State is particularly aggressive. He said that the U.S. has “no choice” but to put 20,000 to 30,000 troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS. In addition to U.S. troops, Trump would encourage America’s strategic partners in the region to increase their on-the-ground presence through tactics like placing embargoes on oil imports on countries until they commit to deploying ground troops.

Trump’s “America First” philosophy manifests itself through his position on Syrian President Bashar al Assad. While there’s been  a push from some quarters for the U.S. to take a harder position toward the removal of Assad, whose litany of human rights violations is well-documented, Trump has called any effort to oust Assad, “madness and idiocy.”

Aside from getting rid of Assad, Trump doesn’t want to take any options for the table in terms of the types of actions the U.S. could take against ISIS—such as using nuclear weapons. The key, Trump insists, is not tipping America’s hand to its enemies. “I won’t tell them where, and I won’t tell them how,” he said. “We must, as a nation, be more unpredictable.”

Defeating ISIS: Clinton

Clinton’s plan for defeating ISIS is, by and large, a continuation of the Obama administration’s policy toward the terrorist group—providing air support and military supplies to a largely local force in an effort to degrade ISIS’s operational capabilities while creating the space necessary for a political solution to coalesce in Syria.

Even so, Clinton is generally seen a more of hawk than Obama when it comes to using military force. She famously advocated for the U.S. to arm moderate rebel factions in Syria well before the president came around to the idea. Like Trump, she’s been open to putting American boots on the ground in the fight against ISIS. But, unlike Trump, she wants to keep the U.S. footprint relatively light,

“I do not believe that we should again have 100,000 American troops in combat in the Middle East. That is just not the smart move to make here,” she said. “If we have learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that local people and nations have to secure their own communities.”

Clinton has also called for an intensification of airstrikes and as the imposition of a no-fly zone. Nevertheless, Clinton’s overall philosophy on the conflict appears to be fundamentally different than Trump’s. Clinton may believe direct efforts to depose Assad aren’t immediately feasible, but she sees removing Syria’s leader as an essential step in delegitimizing ISIS and ultimately removing the group from power.  

Additionally—where some Republicans, like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz—have advocated for a policy of carpet bombing ISIS-controlled territory, Clinton has urged caution.“It would … be a serious mistake to begin carpet bombing populated areas into oblivion,” Clinton insisted. “Proposing that doesn’t make you sound tough. It makes you sound like you are in over your head. Slogans aren’t a strategy. Loose cannons often misfire.”

Preventing terrorist attacks: Trump

Given his real estate background, Trump’s strategy for stopping terrorist attacks isn’t particularly surprising: location, location, location. Specifically, Trump wants to do everything possible to keep the people he believes to be the most likely—due to their ethnicity or religion—to commit acts of terror out of the country.

That’s the reasoning behind Trump’s proposed temporary ban on allowing any Muslims into the country until, “we can figure out what’s going on.”

“Without looking at various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension,” Trump said in a statement released last year. “Where this hatred comes from and why, we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”

Trump’s position Muslim ban, introduced relatively early in his campaign, was slammed by both Democratic and Republican presidential candidate, he reiterated his support for the idea in the wake of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in June. However, he has said some

He’s also called for increasing the pressure on the American Muslim community, which he asserts isn’t doing enough to fight terrorism. Not only would he order law enforcement officials to shutter mosques they believe are, “loaded for bear,” but also directly threatened American Muslims in response to the Orlando terror attacks. “The Muslims have to work with us. … They knew the people in San Bernardino were bad. But they didn’t work with us,” he said. “We need to make sure that everyone who knew something but didn’t tell us is brought to justice. … These people need to have consequences, big consequences.”

Trump is a major advocate for using torture against terrorism suspects. He has asserted, contrary to the conclusion of the Senate’s 2014 report on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program, that techniques like waterboarding are effective in obtaining actionable information. “We have to beat the savages,” he said.

Preventing terrorist attacks: Clinton

The core of Clinton’s proposals to stop terrorist attacks before they happen involves an “intelligence surge,” which increase the U.S. intelligence budget above the $67.9 billion the government spent on intelligence in 2014.

The surge would also involve building stronger partnerships with the tech companies that operate platforms often used by members of terrorist organizations to communicate with each other and spread propaganda. “As president, I will work with our great tech companies from Silicon Valley to Boston to step up our game,” Clinton said. “We have to [do] a better job intercepting ISIS’s communications, tracking and analyzing social media posts, and mapping jihadist networks, as well as promoting credible voices who can provide alternatives to radicalization.”

Clinton has proposed tightening immigration procedures in some respects. She has called for the imposition of a stricter screening process for immigrants coming from countries known as hotbeds for terrorism.

Yet, in contrast with Trump, Clinton has labeled categorically turning away Muslims as a something that would ultimately make the country less safe in the long run. She’s been vocally supportive of President Obama’s plan to dramatically increase the number of refugees fleeing Syria’s ongoing civil war and slammed suggestions from Republicans to block Muslim refugees while admitting Christian ones.

“Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every Syrian refugee—that is just not who we are,” Clinton said. “It would be a cruel irony indeed if ISIS can force families from their homes and then also prevent them from ever finding new ones.”

“[Trump] is supplying [ISIS] with new propaganda,” she added. “[He’s] playing right into their hands.”

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*First Published: Jun 23, 2016, 9:00 am CDT