I have some background in doing communications work for politicians, so I know it can sometimes be a thankless task, defending the things someone who is not you has said and/or done. In the case of Trump, that has to be an even worse task than normal, since the average Trump speech contains at least two dozen insane statements, 71 lies/falsehoods, and probably at least three childish insults (if you are lucky, the insulted group will not be the handicapped or children, this time).
The latest iteration of this phenomenon deals with Trump’s claim that he could eliminate the national debt within 8 years. Now, Trump’s stated explanation for how he would do this is that he would negotiate better trade deals. So you start from the premise that your candidate does not understand that the national deficit is completely unrelated to the trade deficit, and you know that you’re going to have your work cut out for yourself digging out of this hole.
Points to Trump advisor Barry Bennett for at least trying, even if his explanation is equally insane (and completely different from Trump’s own explanation):
Bennett: We can get rid of government buildings we’re not using, we can, uh, extract the energy from government lands, we can lease government lands, we can do all kinds of things to extract value from the assets that we hold.
Reporter: Sixteen trillion dollars worth?
Bennett: Oh, my goodness. You know how much land we have? You know how much oil is offshore, in government lands? Easily.
I actually have some grudging admiration, professionally, for what Bennett is doing here. First of all, for how easy he makes it sound – like $16T would just be a drop in the bucket compared to what we actually own, and that selling it all off wouldn’t really affect the operation of the Federal government at all. No problem!
Second, he clearly made this up on the spot and sprung it on this hapless MSNBC reporter, who has no reason to know what the total value of all assets held by the United States government is, so he knows there’s virtually no chance he’ll be confronted with the actual figure of what the value of those assets might be. Genius.
Problematically, of course, as a factual matter Bennett’s solution is complete bovine fecal material. We do, in fact, know how much land the United States has, and the total value of all real estate currently owned by the United States government (which is by FAR the most valuable asset the USG has) is $1.8 trillion. The total value of all real estate in the entire United States is about $23 trillion at last estimate, which of course is mostly owned by private entities.
We also know how much oil exists in total lands owned by the Federal Government (including offshore areas), and that amount is about 18 billion barrels. Even if you could magically extract it all overnight, and sell it for WAY above current market price (something like $100 per barrel, which is near the all time high), you’ve come up with another $1.8 trillion.
So even in a fantasy world where Donald Trump could somehow unilaterally overnight sell everything the United States owns, including the stuff that is bolted down, he is going to come up well over $10 trillion short of solving the national debt problem.
The good news, though, if you’re a Donald Trump spox, is that you don’t have to sell this to people who are interested in facts or reality. Which, really, makes anyone’s job substantially easier.