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Is the flat tax Rick Perry’s political silver bullet?

at 07:31 AM ET, 10/20/2011

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s planned embrace of a flat tax proposal to address the nation’s ongoing economic woes amounts to a major political gamble on which the fate of his presidential bid could rest.


Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivers a keynote address during the Western Republican Leadership Conference, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
While Perry won’t offer specifics on the plan until next week, a survey of senior Republican party operatives suggests that the Texas governor might well have stumbled onto a bit of political gold.

“The flat tax is fairly simple and easier to explain, which may help Perry who to date has failed to make a coherent case for why he’s better on the economy than his rivals with private sector experience like [Mitt] Romney and [Herman] Cain,” said Sarah Huckabee, a Republican operative who headed former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty’s Iowa presidential bid earlier this year.

It’s the simplicity of the flat tax that makes it so politically appealing. Nearly all Americans — but especially Republicans — are fed up with the oftentimes baffling complexity of the current tax code and yearn for something better.

The idea of wiping out the entire tax code then in favor of a single tax bracket appeals to most peoples’ common sense. And, politically, it’s far easier to explain a flat tax in a 30-second television ad than trying to explain a more elaborate plan. (Worth noting: Romney has a 59-point economic plan.)

“It’s killer politics in New Hampshire,” said one veteran Republican operative not affiliated with any of the presidential candidates. New Hampshire, which will hold the first primary vote of the 2012 race, has long been home to flinty fiscal conservatives who are decidedly resistant to taxes.(The state has no income or property tax.)

But, simply embracing a flat tax won’t be enough for Perry, according to several GOP strategists.

First, he has to prove that he is simply not “me too-ing” Cain, who has made huge political strides in recent weeks with a heavy reliance on his “9-9-9” tax reform plan.

“The follower position usually loses out to the leader position,” said one senior party strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly. “The key is whether Perry can articulate the merits of the plan in a way that makes him sound like a true believer, rather than making it sound like a ‘catch-up to Cain’ political stunt.”

Sal Russo, a California-based Republican consultant, added that Perry “has to sell it, along with his energy plan and other ideas, as a prescription to create jobs and restore American prosperity.”

Looming over the discussion of the political efficacy of the flat tax is wealthy businessman Steve Forbes, who ran for president in 1996 and 2000 with the flat tax at the center of his policy platform. (Forbes is advising Perry on his proposal, according to a well-placed source.)

On neither occasion did he win the Republican nomination, but his advisers in that race insist that the flat tax proposal was a major boon to his campaign.

“The flat tax as Steve’s signature idea was more popular in the polls that any candidate,” said John McLaughlin who conducted survey research for both of Forbes’ presidential bids. “Steve started at zero in the polls against [former Kansas Sen. Bob] Dole. ... We were probably one more primary win away from knocking him out.”

Of course, Forbes also came under heavy criticism for the flat tax plan — the same sort of criticism that Perry can expect to be launched at his proposal.

For example, Dole ran ads attacking Forbes’ flat tax as a tax hike on middle class families; “the typical New Hampshire household will pay $2,000 more in taxes, and we lose our property tax deduction and our mortgage interest deduction,” said the narrator in one Dole-sponsored commercial.

Proposing a flat tax will win Perry attention — much of it positive. But, the selling of the policy will be key. Is this an idea whose time has come? Or simply the latest gimmick that will raise middle class taxes and leave a gaping revenue hole?

“Perry needs to embrace, explain and get on the offense with a flat tax model for economic growth,” said Scott Reed who managed Dole’s 1996 campaign. “This policy speech needs to be clean and deep — so he can own the issue.”

Cain is pro-choice?: Things are about to get a little dicey for Cain’s campaign, after its candidate took a confusing — and seemingly pro-abortion rights — position during an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan on Wednesday night.

While Cain said he doesn’t believe in abortion under any circumstances, he also said he doesn’t think government should be involved. At all.

“It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn’t try to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive decision,” Cain said.

“I can have an opinion on an issue without it being a directive on the nation,” he added. “The government shouldn’t be trying to tell people everything to do, especially when it comes to a social decision that they need to make.”

For anti-abortion rights folks who think abortion amounts to murder, that quite simply isn’t good enough. And to hear a major GOP presidential candidate espouse that view is remarkable, to say the least.

The question now is whether this is the next position that Cain backs away from.

Nevada may reschedule: The Nevada Republican Party is reportedly considering moving its Jan. 14 caucuses in order to allow New Hampshire to set its presidential primary in January.

The most likely date appears to be Feb. 4, which would put Nevada behind Florida’s Jan. 31 primary but give it plenty of real estate to itself in early February.

New Hampshire law says its primary must be held one week before any similar contest. Because the primary is held on Tuesday, and Iowa’s caucuses are set for Tuesday, Jan. 3, New Hampshire would prefer to go Jan. 10. But in order to do that, Nevada must move its contest, Granite State officials say.

In exchange for moving, the logic goes, Nevada would help secure its early state status in the future.

The Nevada GOP meets Saturday to nail down a date.

Romney’s image improves: Romney may not be improving his lot in the GOP presidential race much, but his image is getting better.

A new AP-GfK poll shows Romney’s favorable rating rising to a new high of 49 percent — up from just 39 percent in August. His unfavorable rating is now 37 percent.

As the Hotline’s Steve Shepard notes, those numbers rival President Obama, who is currently at 54 percent favorable and 44 percent unfavorable.

Meanwhile, Cain’s favorable rating has increased from 21 percent in August to 43 percent today, as voters get to know him better. And Newt Gingrich appears to have recovered some of his good name, with his favorable-unfavorable split going from 27-57 in August to 35-51 today.

Ohio redistricting gamesmanship: The Ohio Supreme Court ruled recently that that state GOP’s redistricting plans could be subject to ballot referendum, but the GOP may have an ace in the hole.

Republicans can make the plan immune to a referendum if they pass it with a super-majority in the state House, and they are reaching out to black Democrats to try and get just that, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

The GOP has big majorities in both chambers and has released a draft redistricting plan that would make 12 of the swing state’s 16 congressional districts relatively safe for Republicans. Democrats have bristled at the proposal, saying it packs their voters into as few districts as possible.

The GOP has 59 of 99 seats in the state House, which means they need to pick off seven Democrats to get to the two-thirds super-majority needed to avoid a referendum (they already have a two-thirds majority in the state Senate). In order to get black Democrats on-board, they are reportedly willing to make some concessions to those lawmakers.

Alliances between minorities and Republicans aren’t all that uncommon when it comes to redistricting.

Fixbits:

A new web video from Team Romney tries to call into question Perry’s ability to debate Obama by featuring clips of him stumbling at GOP debates.

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley (R) says he won’t endorse before the state’s January caucuses.

Obama blames his graying hair on genetics, rather than the stresses of the job.

Teleprompter? He don’t need no stinking teleprompter.

Obama adviser David Axelrod says the GOP field comes down to Romney versus someone who’s not Romney.

Maryland Democrats’ controversial congressional redistricting plan moves forw nard. The map would essentially eliminate Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s (R) district.

The House ethics committee re-opens its investigation into Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), as he faces a primary with former congresswoman Debbie Halvorson.

A new Gallup poll shows most Americans think Obama deserves a moderate or great amount of the blame for the country’s economic woes.

Former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert (R) goes up with an early ad in the open Texas Senate race.

Must-reads:

Republican rivals’ stabs at ‘Romneycare’ gaining traction” — Jackie Kucinich, USA Today

Does Romney make a stronger play for Iowa?” — Alex Moe, MSNBC

Labor lags in new fundraising world” — Robin Bravender, Politico

Mitt Romney and Rick Perry’s longtime rivalry resurfaces at debate” — Philip Rucker , Washington Post

 
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