Why Donald Trump's Defense of Social Security Is Brilliant

Republican presidential candidates, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, stand together onstage at the start of their 12th debate, at the University of Miami in Florida on March 10. Carlo Allegri/Reuters

"I want to leave Social Security as it is."

That sounds like a rather bland statement from a politician but it's a pretty daring one coming from a Republican presidential contender. But there was Donald Trump at the GOP debate in Miami defending Social Security, saying he didn't want to alter it. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio was casually discussing raising the retirement age to 70 for folks in their forties like him, otherwise the system would go bankrupt.

Trump is more right than Rubio on both the policy and the politics. Yes, Social Security is under financial strain but it's under much, much less than Medicare and it's not at all clear that Draconian measures are needed over the next two decades to keep the system afloat. Rubio should know that retiring at 70 isn't an option for most people in corporate life who start getting eased out in their fifties. For waitresses or landscapers or other older workers engaged in physical labor saying "wait a few more years" is no small matter.

Saying "let's not panic about Social Security" puts Trump closer to liberal economist Paul Krugman than Ted Cruz.

It's this kind of busting ideological barriers has made Trump the leader. He's broken with GOP policies on entitlements, on the individual mandate that was central to Obamacare and on trade. He's not a liberal or a Democrat but he is charting new waters and given the total ossification of both parties, this kind of glasnost has to be welcomed.

The Democrats, meanwhile, are moving in lockstep to the left and had no place for former Virginia Senator James Webb, who had to drop out of the race. His more conservative positions on coal or his rare anti-Iraq War, anti-Iran deal position helped make him anathema.

There's much that's creepy about the Trump campaign—the pummeling of protestors at some of his rallies, the loopy, ugly proposed ban on Muslims entering the country "until we figure out what the hell is going on." (When is that?) But the fresh air of having a candidate, a Republican candidate, say that campaign contributions buy influence and that America was not safe on 9/11 isn't something that should be discounted.

Some of the credit belongs to Trump but it also belongs to the blue-collar white workers who have flooded the GOP and aren't shy about applauding a candidate who defends entitlements. These hard hats are creating a demand for apostates. They want to retire at a decent age. And they may create many more ideologically flexible Trumps in the years ahead.