That philosophy is anathema to conservatives who have long derided the stimulus package and the underlying push for more federal spending on infrastructure. “This is right out of the Obama playbook,” said Michael Sargent, a research associate at the Heritage Foundation. Sargent said it was “fairly ironic” for Trump to be touting a major infrastructure plan when he is simultaneously attacking Clinton for offering “more of the same” economic policies. “This is literally ‘more of the same’ of what she’s proposing,” he said. Like other conservatives, Sargent argued that Trump’s assertion that America’s roads and bridges are “crumbling” is an exaggeration.
Trump’s devotion to infrastructure draws criticism even from his own economic advisers. On Friday, the Trump campaign named Stephen Moore, a former president of the Club for Growth and well-known conservative economist, as a member of his economic advisory council. Barely two days later, Moore ripped Trump’s comments on infrastructure in an op-ed for the Washington Times. “It’s a rare source of agreement, so wouldn’t you know it: They’re both wrong,” Moore wrote of Trump and Clinton.
In a phone interview on Monday, Moore told me that while he had discussed issues like taxes, trade, and energy policy with Trump many times, the two had never talked about infrastructure. If they did, Moore said he would tell the candidate: “I don’t think we need to spend hundreds of billions on infrastructure. We need states to run infrastructure, not the federal government.”
On Capitol Hill, congressional Republicans have largely kept quiet about Trump’s promises to spend big on roads, rails, and bridges. House Speaker Paul Ryan, fresh off his latest public spat with Trump over his primary campaign, has responded with the rhetorical equivalent of a brush-off. “House Republicans are focused on our ‘Better Way’ agenda,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a terse statement. (The ‘Better Way’ agenda does not include new spending on infrastructure.) The speaker’s office also noted that Congress passed a $305 billion, five-year infrastructure bill late in 2015—suggesting that Ryan does not believe an additional infusion of federal money is needed anytime soon.
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The first thing to ask about any Trump policy pronouncement is, “Is he serious, or is this just one more idle musing from a stream-of-consciousness candidate?” It’s true that Trump hasn’t released a detailed infrastructure plan, and his much-hyped economic policy speech on Monday hewed much closer to the orthodoxies—supply-side tax cuts, less regulation—of the party leadership and donor class.
Yet Trump’s embrace of an ambitious infrastructure agenda has been one of the most consistent themes of his campaign, a core plank from the moment he descended his gold-rimmed escalator in Manhattan 14 months ago. (“We have to rebuild our infrastructure,” he said then. “Our bridges, our roadways, our airports.”) His signature proposal—that big, beautiful wall along the southern border—is, after all, nothing more than an infrastructure project. And while Trump wants Mexico to pay for the border wall, he says American taxpayers and investors should kick in money for a fund to finance road, bridge, and rail projects. “The citizens would put money into the fund,” he said on Fox Business. “It would be a great investment, and it would put a lot of people to work.”