THE MORNING PLUM:
Ever since Donald Trump won the election, the Democratic Party has been consumed in multiple debates over the route back to power. One of them is this: Should Democrats prioritize winning over college-educated whites who in 2016 didn’t quite desert Trump in large-enough numbers, but who are now deeply alienated by his racism, lawlessness and boorishness? Or should they focus harder on winning blue-collar whites by convincing them that Trump’s economic populism was a sham and sharpening their own populist message in response?
The now-certain passage of the Trump/GOP tax plan — and the coming battle over it — may help Democrats take some steps toward resolving that dilemma, in ways that could give them a lift in the 2018 elections.
The beauty of this plan, from the perspective of Democrats, is that large percentages of pretty much every voter group — including both college-educated and non-college whites — disapprove of it. A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll finds that 24 percent of Americans say the plan is a good idea — and only 28 percent of rural Americans and 29 percent of whites without a college degree give it the thumbs-up.
Similarly, yesterday’s CNN poll found non-college whites surprisingly split on the plan, with 46 percent in favor and 42 percent opposing, while only 25 percent of them think they’ll be better off. Meanwhile, college-educated whites overwhelmingly oppose it by 62-31, which may give Democrats an opening in 2018 to win over more affluent whites who have historically tilted Republican over fiscal issues.
Multiple GOP operatives tell James Hohmann that they plan to turn these perceptions around by touting the plan as, at its core, a big accomplishment in the direction of middle-class relief. The selling point will be that the vast majority of Americans will see a short-term tax cut.
But the reality of the plan may make this a tough sell. Next year, the average tax cuts for the lower quintiles are relatively meager, which means those voters may not be as appreciative — or even aware — of them as Republicans expect. Over time, the benefits for them basically evaporate, even as the plan lavishes enormous windfalls on very wealthy earners, who actually gain an even larger share of those benefits in the out-years — a message Democrats will try to hammer home.
Democratic pollster Geoff Garin recently argued to me that the tax bill carries another vulnerability: When voters are told that the plan’s deficit-busting tax cuts for the rich and corporations may lead to deep cuts to the safety net later, particularly to programs such as Medicare, they turn even more heavily on it — something that is particularly true of non-college whites. Republicans have already helpfully advertised that this is their next step, something Democrats will also highlight.
What’s more, Trump and Republicans control Washington. This means voters who are continuing to struggle may blame their travails on the party in charge. One Democratic operative told me today that voters currently feel that “they are being forced to pay higher taxes and higher health-care bills,” and now that Republicans are putting their stamp on both the tax and health-care systems (the GOP bill repeals the individual mandate), voters will be “poised to hold Republicans accountable for that.”
In this telling, it is Trump and Republicans who are now representative of “the swamp,” i.e., the “rich people” and the “powerful people who are benefiting at voters’ expense.” This provides an opening to turn the “drain the swamp” rhetoric back on Republicans.
The tax bill may provide fodder for this. As I’ve argued, it represents a profound betrayal of the story Trump told during the campaign: that he, personally, enriched himself off our rigged system for decades and is now here to put his inside knowledge of the scam to work for you. In reality, the plan exacerbates the very rigging that Trump campaigned against, by creating many new opportunities for the wealthy (and their armies of accountants and lawyers) to further game the tax code on their own behalf. And as Jonathan Chait points out, the very fact that Trump himself is likely to reap huge windfalls, even as Republicans have helped shield Trump’s tax returns from public view, neatly joins Trump and Republicans at the hip as the culprits in this caper.
The results out of Virginia and Alabama have demonstrated that Democrats can gain back ground by uniting a heavily energized base driven by African American turnout with college-educated, suburban white voters who are deeply alienated by Trump and the GOP’s enabling of him. It remains to be seen, however, whether Democrats can win back the House, and hold vulnerable Senate seats in Trump-carried states, without improving among non-college whites. The tax plan may provide a way for Democrats to do both.
* GOP PRIORITIES ON DISPLAY WITH TAX BILL: This, from the New York Times, nicely captures the motives of Republicans in passing the tax plan:
Republicans … followed an overwhelming desire to notch a legislative “win” for the president, their donors, the restless voters of their party base and for their own political fortunes.
Republicans are giving Trump a “win” (that also will hugely enrich him and his family); making their donors happy; and telling their base (falsely) that they’re delivering for them. In that order.
* REPUBLICANS HAVE TALKING POINTS READY: CNN’s Stephen Collinson points out that Republicans are in a similar position to Democrats after passing Obamacare. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) claims he has “no concerns whatsoever” about the tax bill’s unpopularity. More from Ryan:
“When people see their withholding improving, when they see the jobs occurring, when they see bigger paychecks, a fairer tax system, a simpler tax code, that’s what’s going to produce the results.”
Bigger paychecks? Given the relatively paltry size of the tax cuts for lower earners, it seems doubtful that this will get them to overlook what a massive giveaway to the rich the plan really is.
* RYAN PUNTS ON WHETHER TAX CUTS PAY FOR THEMSELVES: This morning, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie pressed Ryan on whether spectacular economic growth would produce enough revenues to pay for the tax cuts. Ryan answered:
“Nobody knows the answer to that question, because that’s in the future. But what we do know is that this will increase economic growth.”
This is the same Paul Ryan who has been treated by the press as a paragon of fiscal seriousness for years.
* TRUMP QUIETLY LIMITS LEGAL IMMIGRATION: Trump’s ramped-up deportation efforts, veiled Muslim ban and fantasy border wall get all the attention. But the New York Times reports that the administration is doing a lot to limit legal immigration, too:
The Trump administration has … quietly, and with much less resistance, slowed many forms of legal immigration without the need for Congress to rescind a single visa program enshrined in the law. … The changes show how the Trump administration has managed to carry out the least attention-grabbing, but perhaps farthest-reaching, portion of the president’s immigration plans: cutting the number of people entering the United States each year as temporary workers or permanent residents.
This will do wonders for struggling Trump voters in Appalachia and the Rust Belt, particularly along with huge permanent tax cuts for the rich and corporations.
* McCONNELL’S TWO GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tells Bloomberg that his two greatest accomplishments are preventing Barack Obama from filling a Supreme Court seat and passing these tax cuts:
“For me personally, it would be Neil Gorsuch and the changes we’re making in the circuit courts,” McConnell said in an interview Tuesday. “But this would be a really close second,” he said referring to the tax bill.
These two achievements both display bottomless contempt for democratic norms, so they do have a common thread.
* AND TRUMP’S REELECTION MESSAGE, IN ONE TWEET: Here it is, from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders:
Yesterday’s Quinnipiac University poll found Trump’s approval underwater on the economy (44-51), on terrorism (45-48), on health care (29-64), and on taxes (35-58). #SoMuchWinning