The American Action Network, a 501(c)4 allied with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, is spending $1 million around the State of the Union to promote last year’s GOP-passed tax cuts — by attacking House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
In the ad, which begins running on television and digital media today, a few quick headlines about the tax bill — “bonuses and better benefits for millions” — are interspersed with clips of Pelosi (D-Calif.) attacking it. Viewers see her call the bonuses announced since December by some companies “crumbs,” and see her call the bill “Armageddon,” a word she originally used to refer to the bill’s long-term effect on social insurance spending.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in an email that the ad ripped Pelosi’s words “out of context,” and reflected “the dishonesty of Republicans’ sales pitch on their tax scam.”
“Polling shows the American people recognized the GOP tax scam for exactly what it is: a staggering giveaway to corporations and the wealthiest, delivered on the backs of working families,” Hammill said. “Now, underwater and exposed, Republicans and their special interest donors are trying to say a bill that gave 83 percent of its tax cuts to the wealthiest one percent was really about helping the middle class.”
Public polling has found support for the tax bill rising since its passage, and since headlines about the bill’s end to some popular state deductions were replaced by headlines about corporate bonuses. But Corry Bliss, the executive director of both the AAN and the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, has warned Republicans that the tax bill is not yet a vote-winner.
“Incumbents must begin to educate their constituents on this specific legislation and how it cuts taxes for the middle class,” Bliss wrote in a memo for Republican candidates last week.
The AAN, which after this ad will have spent $5.5 million this year promoting the tax bill, is not the only organization selling it by attacking Pelosi. Ryan’s (R-Wis.) own reelection campaign ran an Instagram ad over the weekend that described Pelosi as “Fancy Nancy,” implying that she dismissed stories of companies handing out bonuses because of her personal wealth, estimated in the tens of millions. The ad illustrated its point with a photo of Pelosi in the opera box of a charity event.
Selling the tax bill as a populist, middle-class victory — at the same time Democrats challenge it with a populist campaign of their own — is an effort likely to be backed by big political spending. The largest Republican-aligned political groups, such as the AAN, Americans for Prosperity and Ending Spending, spent millions last year to push for the tax cut. Freedom Partners, a major node in the Koch network of political groups, claims to have spent $1.6 million already against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), mostly on ads that have characterized her as an enemy of the middle class for opposing the tax bill.
Democrats, who universally opposed the final tax bill, are putting those very GOP groups front and center in their own campaign. They’ve struggled to break through on the story of employee bonuses, which has become an evergreen topic for business-focused cable news channels; the party has tried to raise awareness of layoffs at some of the same companies making bonus headlines, or of conditions around the bonuses that will limit which workers get them.
Mostly, however, Democrats and progressives have taken issue with who’s funding the tax cut ads. This week, progressive groups will protest outside of the congressional Republican retreat in West Virginia; over the weekend, they drew attention to Ryan’s comments at the Koch network donor conference, where he thanked some of the wealthiest people in politics for promoting the tax cuts.
“We would not be in this unique position without the hard work and the devotion from everyone within the Koch network,” Ryan said.
Democrats’ polling has found that an us-vs.-them message, one that portrays President Trump and Republicans as working only for the rich, could pull back some voters who took a chance on Trump in 2016. Republicans’ polling, meanwhile, continues to find that Pelosi is unpopular — hence her starring role in ads that portray Democrats as the real political elite.
“A much-needed bonus or a $2,000 tax cut may be crumbs to Pelosi and her elite San Francisco friends, but that’s real money that matters to middle-class families — allowing them to have some much-needed peace of mind,” said AAN’s Bliss in a statement.