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By Emily Stephenson and Steve Holland

CLEVELAND (Reuters) – People seeking a deeper understanding of Donald Trump’s economic policy came up empty-handed this week at the Republican National Convention.

Best known to Americans previously as a reality TV host and having never held public office, the New York businessman on Thursday accepted the party’s nomination for the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

The party establishment has fretted over some of his plans to curb illegal immigration, renegotiate trade deals and levy tariffs on China. Trump’s skepticism about free trade puts him at odds with Republican orthodoxy. Wall Street investors are wary and confused.

In speeches from the main stage and in panel discussions on the sidelines, the four-day convention was notable for a paucity of policy details, the result perhaps of a desire to play down differences among the party faithful.

The lack of specifics was too much for one head of a multinational corporation, who complained at a business forum that he had no idea what to expect from Trump, a New York real estate developer.

“We feel anxious,” said Michael Thaman, chief executive officer of Owens Corning, which operates in 25 countries. “In business, obviously details matter.”

Trump offered little insight himself in his convention-ending acceptance speech. He spoke in broad, thematic strokes without much detail, sticking closely to positions he had outlined during 13 months of campaigning.

“Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” Trump said.

HILLARY CLINTON THE TOP TOPIC

Speakers in Cleveland placed a greater emphasis on defeating the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, than on what Trump has called the failed economic policies of President Barack Obama.

On Tuesday night, when the theme was “Make America Work Again” and the economy was the designated topic, a rough search by Reuters of the prime-time speeches found some 80 mentions of the word “Clinton” compared to about 15 mentions of “economy.”

According to transcripts of the speeches delivered at the convention, only Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. mentioned Dodd-Frank, the financial oversight law many Republicans rail against.

Asked on Thursday, before the older Trump’s speech, about the shortage of policy specifics, his campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said: “The campaign is pleased with the convention program, the content of which has been diverse and dynamic and we look forward to an exciting conclusion tonight.”

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was chief economic policy adviser to Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008, was not satisfied with his experience.

He described taking part in a panel discussion on Wednesday with two Trump advisers, television commentator Larry Kudlow and Steve Moore of the conservative Heritage Foundation, that he said was light on details.

“’Isn’t Mr. Trump bad on trade?’” he said someone would ask.

“’Yes, but we’re going to fix it. Don’t worry.’

“‘Isn’t his tax plan a problem that’s going to lose $12 trillion?’

“‘Yes, but we’ll fix it. Don’t worry.'”

Kudlow and Moore also appeared on Tuesday at an event hosted by conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks, along with donor Andy Puzder, the chief executive of CKE Restaurants, which owns fast-food restaurants Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.

The group discussed trade and immigration policy, with panelists at times shrugging off Trump’s lack of specifics. “All you really need to know is the alternative is Hillary Clinton,” Puzder said at one point, reinforcing the week’s theme.

UNCONVENTIONAL CONVENTION

Republicans typically use their nominating conventions to emphasize their candidates’ main policy points. Think tanks and lobby groups hold panel discussions. Experts circulate white papers.

With Trump, the events were built more around his personality and the need for the party to unite behind him. There were some such gatherings in Cleveland, but fewer than usual, Holtz-Eakin said.

Some advisers to past Republican candidates suspected Trump was not relying on a vast team of policy advisers.

Lanhee Chen, an adviser to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, sorted through convention speeches in 2012 before speakers delivered them because, he said, he wanted to make sure they hewed closely to Romney’s positions.

“I imagine the Trump campaign doesn’t have that process in place because they don’t have a lot of policy to talk about,” Chen said. “It just says that policy hasn’t been a priority for them. You end up with a situation where the candidate is making pronouncements that don’t seem particularly well informed.”

Some delegates who spoke to Reuters seemed unconcerned by the policy-light approach to the convention, arguing that it was more important for the gathering to whip up enthusiasm among the delegates and forge unity.

“This is more of a party,” said Ray Suttle, a 53-year-old lawyer and delegate from Virginia. “You don’t like people talking shop at a cocktail party, do you?”

 

(Additional reporting by James Oliphant; Writing by Howard Goller; Editing by Ross Colvin)

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump supporters carry a banner at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Trump speaking at Londonderry, NH rally

Screenshot from YouTube

Donald Trump once again baselessly claimed on Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going to be over" soon, just hours after his chief of staff suggested the administration was unable to get it under control.

"Now we have the best tests, and we are coming around, we're rounding the turn," Trump said at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "We have the vaccines, we have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines, we're rounding the turn, it's going to be over."

Trump has made similar claims on repeated occasions in the past, stating early on in the pandemic that the coronavirus would go away on its own, then with the return of warmer weather.

That has not happened: Over the past several weeks, multiple states have seen a surge in cases of COVID-19, with some places, including Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin, setting up overflow hospital units to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients.

Hours earlier on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to contradict Trump, telling CNN that there was no point in trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus because it was, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," he said. "Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu."

Meadows doubled own on Monday, telling reporters, "We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it."

"We will try to contain it as best we can, but if you look at the full context of what I was talking about, we need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines, we may need to make sure that when people get sick, that, that they have the kind of therapies that the president of the United States had," he added.Public health experts, including those in Trump's own administration, have made it clear that there are two major things that could curb the pandemic's spread: mask wearing and social distancing.

But Trump has repeatedly undermined both, expressing doubt about the efficacy of masks and repeatedly ignoring social distancing and other safety rules — even when doing so violated local and state laws.

Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19 himself, openly mocked a reporter on Friday for wearing a mask at the White House — which continues to be a hotspot for the virus and which was the location of a superspreader event late last month that led to dozens of cases. "He's got a mask on that's the largest mask I think I've ever seen. So I don't know if you can hear him," Trump said as his maskless staff laughed alongside him.

At the Manchester rally on Sunday, Trump also bragged of "unbelievable" crowd sizes at his mass campaign events. "There are thousands of people there," he claimed, before bashing former Vice President Joe Biden for holding socially distant campaign events that followed COVID safety protocols.

"They had 42 people," he said of a recent Biden campaign event featuring former President Barack Obama. "He drew flies, did you ever hear the expression?"

Last Monday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) endorsed Biden's approach to the pandemic as better than Trump's, without "any doubt."

"The more we go down the road resisting masks and distance and tracing and the things that the scientists are telling us, I think the more concerned I get about our management of the COVID situation," he told CNN.

In his final debate against Biden last Thursday, Trump was asked what his plan was to end the pandemic. His answer made it clear that, aside from waiting for a vaccine, he does not have one.

"There is a spike, there was a spike in Florida and it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Texas — it's now gone. There was a spike in Arizona, it is now gone. There are spikes and surges in other places — they will soon be gone," he boasted. "We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine."

Experts have said a safe vaccine will likely not be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, and that most people will not be able to be vaccinated until next year.

Trump also bragged Sunday that he had been "congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we have been able to do," without laying out any other strategy for going forward.

Nationally, new cases set a single-day record this weekend, with roughly 84,000 people testing positive each day. More than 8.5 million Americans have now contracted the virus and about 225,000 have died.

Trump, by contrast, tweeted on Monday that he has "made tremendous progress" with the virus, while suggesting that it should be illegal for the media to report on it before the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.