Republicans believe their tax cut bill is the first step in winning enough during the midterm elections to preserve their majorities in the House and Senate. It’s absolutely necessary following the Obamacare repeal debacle. If they finish their first year with control of the House, Senate, and White House without passing any meaningful piece of legislation, voters will rightfully wonder what they’re doing in DC in the first place.
The tax bill is not a guarantee they’ll win. In fact, passing it will temporarily hurt their chances. As David M. Drucker pointed out, the bill is unpopular at a time when a majority of Americans want Democrats in control on Capitol Hill:
Republicans are counting on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to change the minds of unhappy voters who would prefer to have the Democrats in charge on Capitol Hill by an 11-point margin and consistently rate Trump’s job performance at around 40 percent, according to polling averages.
That’s a tall order for a proposal that has been underwater for weeks and is viewed skeptically by upscale suburban voters in Republican strongholds who worry it will raise their taxes. A fresh Monmouth University survey pegs support for the package at just 26 percent; 47 percent disapproved.
Drucker and Republican strategists agree that passing it launches a new campaign: selling it to the American people. How the GOP tries to sell it will determine their success in the midterm elections. If they go down the road of telling people they’re better off because of this cut or that change, their message will be completely ineffective. Leftist mainstream media isn’t on their side, which means they need more than facts and figures to convince people the tax bill is a good thing.
They need emotion. They need to make it personal. To do this, they’ll need to attach the tax plan to every piece of good economic news that comes in for the next 10 months while shifting blame for any negative economic news. They need to learn from the mistakes the Democrats made in attempting to defend Obamacare. The healthcare bill was more popular in its early days than the GOP tax plan is today, so Republicans have to work both harder and smarter if they’re going to avoid massive losses.
Avoiding the Obamacare defense mistakes
Republican majorities in the House and Senate are 100% due to Obamacare. They used it to get conservatives rallying behind them more than ever, especially through the Tea Party movement. Democrats failed to defend their policy because they weren’t willing to accept any responsibility for its shortcomings.
The GOP needs to own up to the shortcomings of the tax plan when they pop up, then redirect overall blame. An example of this will be the incessant stories about families in New York or California who end up paying more taxes thanks to cuts in state and local deductions. The Democrats and the media will find some suburban middle-upper class family who had to sell their home and move into a cramped apartment thanks to unexpected tax hikes hitting their bottom line. This is a fair point that the Democrats and media will make just as it was fair for Republicans to point out how people lost access to good healthcare because of Obamacare.
The Democrats played the “isolated case” card and it didn’t work. To avoid this mistake, the GOP will need to own up to the fact that somewhere around 20% of taxpayers, mostly in very blue states, will see their taxes rise. They need to then redirect it back on the blue states themselves, demonstrating how these states have become addicted to high taxes and had to lean on deductions from federal taxes to make up for it. This will be challenging for Republicans in these states to keep their seats, but many have simply opposed the bill to protect their own chances of reelection. It may be enough to distance themselves. As for all the other Republicans, their narrative should be that California and New York need to rein in their tax and spend mentality to protect their own people rather than reliance on federal breaks to make up the difference. Why should these blue states penalize red states by overcharging taxes and sucking up these breaks?
If it sounds like a tough case to make, that’s because it is. Nevertheless, there’s no better narrative for defending their home turf than to say the Democrat-controlled states are the ones paying their fair share now that the new tax plan is in place.
That’s the defensive message. The positive message will be attributing fiscal success to the tax cuts at every level. Americans who have more money come tax time can thank the tax cuts. Increased job and wage numbers can thank the corporate tax cuts. Every company that moves operations back to the United States will do so because of tax cuts. If money is good, it’s because of the tax cuts.
There’s a potential problem with this strategy. What if the economy doesn’t do so well in 2018? The economy is looking great, but did it peak too early? Can the nation sustain strong economic indicators all the way through to election day? That’s a question that concerns the standard financial crystal balls out there. These are tumultuous times in the United States and around the world. The GOP desperately needs all indicators to be strong, attributed to tax cuts, and showing no signs of weakness if they’re going to be able to maintain their majorities.
If things start to go south with the economy, the best ally for pushing Republican victories in 2018 will become their worst enemy. He sits in the Oval Office.
The wild (Trump) card
As long as the economy can continue down the road it’s on, President Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill should get along just fine. If things turn south and questions start getting asked, expect the President to put all the blame on the Republican-controlled Congress.
This is why the Democrats want so badly for the economy to start failing. It’s not just the standard good-money/bad-money narratives that come into play every election. President Trump magnifies it in both directions. If the economy continues to thrive, he’ll take all the credit, including “his” tax plan. That should be just fine for Republicans on Capitol Hill as it will mean they can keep their majorities. If the economy starts having problems, President Trump will turn against the House and Senate. Doing so will hurt the economy even more. Then more blame. Then worse economy. It we be a domino effect that reaches far and wide across the nation.
Financial indicators may end up determining whether President Trump helps the GOP or hurts it.
The sad part is we shouldn’t need the GOP to use subterfuge and politics to sell their tax plan. If they did as the Federalist Party would do (dramatically cutting national budgets and spending while committing to true tax reform rather that cuts within the current progressive system) the GOP could let the results do the selling for them. Instead, they have to hope for certain things to happen while manipulating the narrative to support their premise.