Tips, TikTok and Epstein Docs: Is There Anything Trump Won’t Promise?

Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

When Donald Trump spoke at the Libertarian convention last month, he was booed almost ceaselessly—with one major exception.

Trump got a reprieve when he promised to commute the sentence of Ross Ulbricht, the creator of dark web marketplace Silk Road, which facilitated the sale of narcotics.

Ulbricht, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2015, is far from a household name. But in that room of cheering libertarians, some of whom had been distributing “Free Ross” signs, there appeared to be nothing the crowd wanted more.

A pledge to pardon the man behind an online black market may not have been on anyone’s bingo card for the 2024 election, but it encapsulates Trump’s recent strategy. The former president has approached campaigning as if he’s simply trading favors for votes.

On the trail, he seems to read the room. Determining the thing his audience wants the most, he blurts out that he’ll get it done. Such airy quid pro quos may be nothing more than cynical election year catnip—after all, there’s nothing forcing Trump to follow through—but they’re also the most Trumpian way imaginable to do what politicians are supposed to do: outline policy priorities and build coalitions.

Tabitha Bonilla, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University and the author of The Importance of Campaign Promises, told The Daily Beast that despite the obvious reasoning behind Trump’s strategy, his promises could backfire.

“Voters are really distrustful of candidates—and this is just a big picture thing—most voters don't believe campaign promises at all,” she said.

Bonilla pointed to research suggesting that voters see candidates who make more promises as more dishonest. Many Americans, Bonilla said, are hyper-aware that politicians will say what they need to to earn votes. Trump’s promises, she said, are useful messaging tools, but might not translate into Election Day returns.

“In the sense of building a narrative, I definitely see his campaign doing that,” Bonilla said. “It’s really hard to say from the polls right now and from the data I’ve seen, just because it tends not to break it up in that fine-grained detail.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

President Joe Biden’s campaign pointed out that not only is Trump telling regular voters what they want to hear—he’s also making quid pro quo promises to wealthy business people behind closed doors.

The Washington Post reported last month that Trump told mega-donors to cut him big checks to help avoid tax increases and environmental regulations.

“Donald Trump says a lot of things, but his record as president is clear: tax giveaways for the super-wealthy and big companies, selling out America's future to oil and gas, and ripping away Americans’ freedoms,” Biden campaign senior spokesperson Sarafina Chitika said.

“Trump sees the world from Mar-a-Lago and is promising to make the rich richer in exchange for their campaign donations while working families are stuck paying the price and struggling to get by.”

Here are some of the other things Trump has promised voters he’ll do in a second term.

Protect TikTok

Soon after Trump joined TikTok earlier this month, he used the platform to issue a firm commitment. When Charlie Kirk, the founder of the conservative student group Turning Point USA, said on camera Trump would never ban TikTok, the former president, standing next to him, simply affirmed the comment.

“I will never ban TikTok,” Trump said.

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Biden signed a law that could ban TikTok by early next year if the app’s Chinese parent company does not sell it soon, legislation that has already sparked a fight in the courts.

Trump has made an about-face from 2020, when he issued an executive order that would have banned the app in the U.S. if it hadn’t been blocked by the courts.

Now, he seems to have realized the platform’s electoral value, using it to help court macho young men.

Four days after he created his TikTok account, Trump’s campaign issued a press release spelling out the plan: “No one shows up to see Joe Biden speak in person and they certainly don’t want to watch him on TikTok. We are going to use TikTok to connect with young voters and show them how my plan will Make America Affordable Again!”

Trump is continuing to target young voters with a speech at Turning Point’s People’s Convention this weekend.

Declassify JFK, 9/11, and Epstein Documents

Another big campaign promise came in a recent Fox and Friends interview, when Trump was asked if he would declassify government files related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 9/11, and Jeffrey Epstein. He said he would do so in all cases, though Semafor later reported that Trump muddled the promise on Epstein in additional comments, saying, “I don’t know about Epstein so much as I do the others. Certainly about the way he died.”

Epstein was a financier and convicted sex offender with a network of powerful connections. Authorities said he killed himself in a Manhattan jail in August 2019.

Donald Trump with Melania Knauss, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell

Donald Trump and his future wife Melania Knauss, financier Jeffrey Epstein, and British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell pose at Mar-a-Lago in Florida in February 2000.

Davidoff Studios Photography

Trump told Fox he declassified many documents related to Kennedy’s assassination during his presidency, which is true, though he also kept thousands out of the public eye. Last July, when Biden opted to hold back some files, Trump promised voters the full transparency they didn’t get in his first term.

“When I return to the White House, I will declassify and unseal all JFK assassination related documents,” he wrote on his Truth Social platform.

Such declassification pledges are further examples of Trump’s efforts to thread the needle, announcing popular plans while tailoring his message to specific segments of the population. Polling last year found that 65 percent of Americans believe Kennedy’s assassination involved a conspiracy. Some data suggests Fox News viewers are particularly prone to conspiratorial mentalities.

Eliminate Taxes on Tips

A Trump promise that got a lot of attention this week was his pledge to eliminate taxes on the money workers make through tips. He first proposed the deal last weekend in Las Vegas, where a plurality of jobs are in the leisure and hospitality industry.

“This is the first time I’ve said this, and for those hotel workers and people that get tips, you’re going to be very happy,” Trump said, “Because when I get to office, we are not going to charge taxes on tips, people making tips.”

Just as his promise at the libertarian convention did, the pledge earned raucous cheers.

On Thursday, Trump reportedly recounted the plan to a group of CEOs, who laughed after he relayed the workers’ excitement.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed interest in the plan, even as a powerful Vegas union leader slammed Trump’s comments as “wild campaign promises from a convicted felon,” Roll Call reported.

The Pay-Off

There is one benefit of the specificity of Trump’s campaign-trail promises: if he does return to power next year, it will be easy for voters to judge which ones he keeps.

Of course, if that is the case, Trump will already have gotten what he wanted.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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