The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion How Democrats hope to make Trump pay for his awful tax plan

Democrats, a few crucial Republicans and White House officials disagree over important aspects of the current Senate GOP tax plan. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Chip Somodevilla/The Washington Post)


One looming challenge Democrats face is to close what you might call the “pluto-populist gap” — the vast disconnect between how working-class whites perceive President Trump’s instincts and intentions on the one hand, and his full-on embrace of the congressional GOP’s plutocratic agenda on the other.

Democrats believe the massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations that Trump and Republicans are now pushing gives them a way of doing just that — just in time for the 2018 midterms.

Democrats are set to go up on the air with a seven-figure TV ad buy targeting House Republicans in multiple districts with a lot of working-class whites — as well as in districts with more college-educated whites, I’ve learned. The animating idea is that the GOP tax proposals — which will be featured in the ads — are likely to prove toxic among both those constituencies, and particularly among those working-class whites who switched from Barack Obama to Trump.

The template for the new ads is this spot that is going up this week in the district of Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine):

The ads are paid for by Not One Penny, a campaign launched by progressive groups to oppose all tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires and big corporations. Tim Hogan, a spokesman for the group, confirmed to me that it would soon announce an ad buy of more than $1 million, targeting 25 House GOP districts, with around a dozen of them heavy on working-class white voters.

Follow Greg Sargent's opinionsFollow

The goal of the ads will be to hit two messages. The first is that the GOP changes to the tax code themselves would be enormously regressive, showering most of their benefits on the wealthy while giving crumbs to working- and middle-class Americans or even raising their taxes. The second is that these tax cuts would necessitate big cuts to the safety net later — the ad references $25 billion in Medicare cuts that could be triggered by the GOP plan’s deficit busting — further compounding the GOP agenda’s regressiveness down the line.

Geoff Garin, a pollster for the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, tells me that his polling shows that this combination alienates working-class whites, particularly Obama-Trump voters. “They are fundamentally populist in their economic views, and they find big breaks to corporations and the wealthy especially heinous when the flip side of that means cutting Medicare and Medicaid,” Garin said.

Garin said recent polling by two Democratic firms — Hart Research and Global Strategy Group — had found that when the GOP tax plan is described to non-college-educated white men — Trump’s base — they oppose it by 58-34. Non-college-educated white women oppose it by 61-24. Garin said he’d advise Democratic candidates to campaign heavily against the tax plan among these voters.

“The tax bill is in some respects the ultimate betrayal of the Trump promise to working-class voters — that he would be on their side,” Garin said. “It’s a huge vulnerability for Republicans in those kinds of districts with working-class whites.”

This polling is helping to shape Not One Penny’s coming ad blitz, and Hogan, the group’s spokesman, confirms that around a dozen districts (the exact list is being finalized) will be heavy on working-class whites, ones that are also gettable for Democrats, such as Poliquin’s in Maine; Iowa’s 1st and 3rd; and Illinois’ 12th. But these ads will also target multiple House GOP districts with a lot of college-educated whites, ones that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

In this sense, the GOP tax bill may help resolve an argument among Democrats over whether they should focus primarily on well-educated low-hanging-fruit districts carried by Clinton, or whether they should expand aggressively into working-class white territory. The GOP tax plan — which will likely be widely opposed by both college-educated and non-college whites — can help bridge this divide. As Hogan put it to me: “The GOP tax plan has something for everyone to hate.”

To be sure, Democrats themselves have acknowledged that getting working-class whites to turn on Trump still poses a major challenge. Indeed, a pro-Trump group is launching its own ad campaign that frames the tax plan as integral to Trump’s “America First” agenda — which is to say, as something that Trump says is good for the working class.

But the Trump/GOP argument along these lines — that cutting taxes for corporations and the rich will lead to an explosion of investment and wage growth — could prove a tough sell, even among those voters. Indeed, a recent Quinnipiac poll found that a plurality of working-class whites, 47-42, believe the GOP plan benefits the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, suggesting that perhaps they appreciate its deeply regressive priorities. What’s more, in the midterm elections, Democrats will be campaigning against the congressional GOP as much as against Trump.

“In working-class districts, Democrats will have the opportunity to run powerful economic populist campaigns,” Garin said.  So maybe the pluto-populist gap can eventually be closed, after all.

* UH-OH. MUELLER TARGETS JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: ABC News scoops that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team has subpoenaed the Justice Department for a “broad array of documents”:

Mueller’s investigators are keen to obtain emails related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the earlier decision of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the entire matter, according to a source … The latest move suggests the Special Counsel is still actively digging into … whether Trump or any other administration official improperly tried to influence an ongoing investigation.

Need we remind you that Trump demanded Comey’s loyalty, then fired him when it was not forthcoming, and admitted on national television that he’d done this over the Russia probe?

* NEW REVELATIONS MAY BE COMING IN MUELLER PROBE: The Post reports that, while some think special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe may be close to wrapping up, experts monitoring the case think it could be just beginning:

Witnesses questioned by Mueller’s team warn that investigators are asking about other foreign contacts and meetings that have not yet become public, and to expect a series of new revelations. … Legal experts and private defense lawyers monitoring the case … predict more campaign officials, among others, will face charges. They expect the probe to extend deep into 2018 and possibly longer.

More big revelations and charges coming during the 2018 elections, of course, could have a real impact on control of Congress.

* GROUP LAUNCHES ADS DESIGNED TO SNOOKER TRUMP VOTERS: McClatchy’s Katie Glueck reports that the pro-Trump group America First Action is launching a six-figure ad buy pitching Trump’s tax cuts to his voters:

The ad invokes Trump’s campaign slogan, “America First,” as it urges listeners to “join the fight to pass President Trump’s tax reform package and fulfill our promise to put America first.” … The spot will air on national conservative radio programs including Rush Limbaugh’s, Sean Hannity’s, Laura Ingraham’s and Hugh Hewitt’s.

One wonders whether the ad will inform listeners as to what this tax “reform” actually does, i.e., cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations on the promise of trickle-down benefits to them.

* COLLINS LOOKS LIKE A ‘NO’ ON TAX BILL — FOR NOW: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on “State of the Union” that she wants the individual mandate repeal stricken from the Senate bill and some deductions added back into it:

“I don’t think that [mandate] provision should be in the bill. … if you do pull this piece of the Affordable Care Act out, for some middle-income families, the increased premium is going to cancel out the tax cut that they would get … it’s also why we need to restore the tax deduction for state and local taxes, the way that the House did.”

Of course, these provisions are needed to pay for the massive corporate tax cuts Trump wants. Still, the White House said over the weekend that it might be willing to keep the mandate.

* YUP, DEMOCRATS HAVE MOVED LEFT — ALONG WITH THE COUNTRY: E.J. Dionne Jr. has a nice response to the constant claims that Democrats have to take care not to get drawn too deeply into “identity politics”:

Yes, the party is more progressive on certain questions than it used to be. It is rightly more committed, for example, to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights — but so is the country as a whole. There has been a strong response from Democrats of all races to police shootings of young, unarmed black men. But this is less a move to the “left” than an expression of simple decency. A lot of this left/center business is about abstractions imposed on reality rather than a reflection of it.

Yup. A lot of Democratic positions are responses to the particularized bigotry and racism we’re seeing in the Trump era, and in a broad sense, the country is with Democrats on this.

* DOUG JONES’S DIFFICULT PATH TO VICTORY: The New York Times explains what would have to happen for Jones to prevail against Roy Moore:

Mr. Jones needs to galvanize black voters’ support and try to pick off moderate white Republicans repulsed by Mr. Moore. Mr. Jones’s supporters are trying to make headway in counties that voted 65 percent or more for President Trump. … The path to victory for Mr. Jones would most likely run through places like Shelby County, which contains Helena, which supported Mr. Moore’s opponent, Luther Strange, in the Senate primary.

Key to this will be moderate Republican and suburban women. The polling averages have Jones up by all of 0.2 points.

* AND TRUMP IS SUPPOSEDLY ‘UNCOMFORTABLE’ OVER MOORE: The Associated Press reports that White House legislative director Marc Short is now claiming that Trump isn’t campaigning for Moore out of discomfort with him:

Short said: “Obviously if he did not believe that the women’s accusations were credible, he would be down campaigning for Roy Moore.” Still, Short added the “38-year-old allegations” were virtually unprovable. “At this point, we think he has been a public figure in Alabama for decades, and the people of Alabama will make the decision, not the president, not the leader of the Senate, not members in Congress.”

Of course, Trump can’t really say he believes Moore has disqualified himself without raising questions as to whether the multiple allegations against him are also disqualifying.