Donald Trump still supports eminent domain—the government-backed confiscation of private property—but his stance earned a harsh rebuke from Jeb Bush and a round of boos from the audience at the Republican debate.
When challenged by the moderators to defend his position on the issue, Trump maintained that eminent domain is good public policy: it allows the government to build infrastructure and create jobs.
"Eminent domain is an absolute necessity for a country, for our country," said Trump. "Without it, you wouldn't have roads, you wouldn't have hospitals, you wouldn't have anything. You wouldn't have schools, you wouldn't have bridges. You need eminent domain."
He also claimed—very dubiously—that eminent domain is even good for its victims, because in some cases they are given more money than their property is worth. (Of course, compensation makes little difference to someone who doesn't want to sell and should have every right to stay put.)
In practice, Trump has a long history of relying on government force to steal property—not for public use, but for his own private benefit. As Reason's Damon Root wrote recently, "Trump does not just talk the talk. In his real estate career, Trump repeatedly tried to profit from eminent domain abuse, such as when he joined forces with Atlantic City officials in the hopes of kicking an elderly widow out of her home in order to make way for a limousine parking lot for the nearby Trump Plaza hotel and casino."
Thankfully, Jeb Bush was quick to point this out.
BUSH: The difference—the difference between eminent domain for public purpose—as Donald said, roads and infrastructure, pipelines and all that—that's for public purpose," said Bush. "But what Donald Trump did was use eminent domain to try to take the property of an elderly woman on the strip in Atlantic City. That is not public purpose, that is down right wrong."
The audience members sided with Bush, which prompted Trump to denounce them. "That's all of [Bush's] donors and special interests out there," he said.
That's just sour grapes, because eminent domain isn't some fringe special interest issue. It's opposed by a clear majority of the American people—ballot initiatives limiting its use have been approved in 44 states. On this issue, Trump's opinion is undeniably out-of-step with conservatives and libertarians, and virtually everyone else—except maybe government planners.