Establishment Republicans don't like Donald Trump very much, but he does one thing that some of them love: He brags about his money.
It was the first thing Arthur Laffer, the famed supply side economist and informal adviser to much of the GOP field, brought up in a recent interview about the real estate mogul. Laffer dislikes Trump's support of immigration restrictions and tariffs on imports from China, but he delights in how Trump proclaims, in Laffer's words, "I’m rich! I’m rich and I love it!"
"He’s not ashamed of it!" Laffer said. "That’s what you want for your kids, isn’t it? He’s just coming out and saying it.”
He contrasted that stance with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who often tells crowds about how his Cuban immigrant parents struggled to make ends meet when he was growing up. “They couldn’t make it, is what he’s saying,” Laffer said. “It shows me that he doesn’t hold in honor the economic success that I do. When I look at a rich person, I don’t think, here’s a lying cheating so and so. I think, here’s a guy who made it!”
That's how Trump sees it, too. But he also sees, in a rich person, something that will absolutely chill establishment conservatives.
He sees someone who should pay higher taxes.
Trump's fortune is a key part of his appeal to voters. He tells them his prosperity proves he can help America prosper too. "My whole energy, my whole being is going to be to make this country rich," Trump said in Alabama last week. "In order to make this country great, I have to make it rich again.”
Trump is offering, in a way, an unabashed defense of the spirit behind supply-side tax policies, which seek to reduce tax rates across the board but particularly for the highest earners: You want to be rich, so let the rich guy help you get there. As Laffer said, it appeals to voters' aspirations.
But Trump isn't running as a supply-sider. He's running as a populist. He's not arguing for lower top marginal tax rates or a flat tax, like most of his Republican rivals. He doesn't appear to want to eliminate investment taxes, as Rubio proposes. He wants rich people to pay more.
Here's what he told Bloomberg Politics in a television interview Wednesday:
"I would say that the hedge fund people make a lot of money and they pay very little tax. I'm about the middle class. I want the middle class to be thriving again. We're losing our middle-class. ... I would let people that are making hundreds of millions of dollars a year pay some tax, because right now they're paying very little tax, and I think it's outrageous. I want to lower taxes for the middle class."
Asked if he was proposing to raise taxes on himself, Trump replied: "That's right. That's right. I'm okay with it, ready, willing. And you've seen my statements. I mean I do very well. I don't mind paying some tax. The middle class is getting clobbered in this country. The middle class built this country, not the hedge fund guys. But I know people in hedge funds, they pay almost nothing, and it's ridiculous, okay?"
That doesn't sound like a Republican candidate for ... almost anything, really. It sounds like Warren Buffett, the billionaire who became a public spokesman for President Obama's efforts to raise taxes on the rich.
Economic policymaking in the Obama era has been dominated in part by a knock-down partisan fight over whether couples earning $450,000 or more should pay a top tax rate of 35 percent or 39.6 percent. The next Democratic nominee will almost certainly propose raising that rate even more. The Republican nominee will almost certainly propose to cut it.
Unless, that is, the GOP nominates the richest candidate in its field.