Bank Watch

As rivals spar over Wall Street, Trump doesn’t join the fray

Donald Trump speaks during last week’s GOP presidential debate in Detroit. In contrast to his rivals in both parties, Trump has said little about Wall Street and big banks during the debates.
Donald Trump speaks during last week’s GOP presidential debate in Detroit. In contrast to his rivals in both parties, Trump has said little about Wall Street and big banks during the debates. AP

Big banks have been a frequent topic in this season’s presidential debates in both parties. Bernie Sanders wants to break them up and Ted Cruz wouldn’t bail them out. Hillary Clinton would preserve the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul and Marco Rubio would repeal it.

But another candidate has said relatively little about Wall Street and big banks during the debates: Donald Trump.

The GOP front-runner hasn’t been totally silent on such issues – but he hasn’t made them a centerpiece of his campaign either. Much of what he’s said about the financial sector has been in interviews, not the debates.

One thing that’s clear – sort of – from Trump’s comments is his opposition to Dodd-Frank, the 2010 financial overhaul law that mandated sweeping regulations designed to prevent another financial crisis.

In an October 2015 interview with The Hill, Trump called the law a “disaster” and said he would “absolutely” repeal it. But just two months before, in an interview with Time, he seemed to take a softer stance:

“Dodd-Frank is probably not a very good thing,” Trump said. “There are aspects of it you could leave. But generally speaking, Dodd-Frank stifles business.”

A representative for the Trump campaign did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Like some other critics of Dodd-Frank, the celebrity developer has argued that the law is harming borrowers’ ability to get business loans.

“If you’re really rich, like with me, if I want to borrow money I can (borrow) all the money I want,” Trump told Time. “But if there’s a young Donald Trump that needs some money to do a couple of really good deals, (he) can’t get it because the regulators are making it absolutely impossible for the banks to loan money.”

During debates, Trump has typically kept such opinions to himself, even as other candidates have spoken up.

For instance, Trump didn’t weigh in during a Republican debate last year in which Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called for a repeal of Dodd-Frank, which Rubio criticized as fueling the growth of “too big to fail” banks.

In the same debate, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he would not bail out Bank of America if it fell into distress. A moderator had mentioned the Charlotte-based bank by name in a question on bank bailouts.

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who worked at failed investment bank Lehman Brothers, said in the same debate that “there’s too much greed” on Wall Street, which needs “a good ethics lesson.”

Democrats have also talked tough on the financial sector in debates.

Hillary Clinton, who has been criticized for her ties to Wall Street, has said “there should be no bank too big to fail, and no individual too powerful to jail.” She has also said the Republicans must be prevented from “ripping (Dodd-Frank) apart,” and that her plan would empower regulators to break up big banks “if we thought they posed a risk.”

Bernie Sanders has made assailing big banks a regular feature of his debate appearances. In one debate, the Vermont senator called fraud “a business model” on Wall Street. Sanders has called for breaking up the nation’s biggest banks, a plan he said the “great trust-buster” Teddy Roosevelt would support if the 26th president were alive today.

Trump, in an October interview with Fox Business, said he didn’t like the idea of busting up banks.

But he has also spoken critically about a tax system he describes as burdening the middle class with higher tax rates than hedge fund managers, who are “getting away with murder.”


“They’re making a tremendous amount of money. They have to pay tax,” Trump said.

“They’re paying nothing, and it’s ridiculous,” he said. “The hedge fund guys didn’t build this country. These are guys that shift paper around, and they get lucky.”

One reason Trump has steered clear of sharing his opposition to Dodd-Frank in televised debates is that it’s not a view his supporters share, said Republican consultant Larry Shaheen.

“Less regulation of the banks would not be very popular at the moment with a lot of his core constituency,” Shaheen said.

“The polling is not there.”

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts