Donald Trump promised a big middle-class tax cut, and he's delivered it. He promised to tick off some very rich people, and he's delivered on that, too. He did not promise, in so many words, a huge tax cut for those same very rich people, but he's delivered one anyway. He's also delivering, to fully half of all American households, the power to tell the federal government, "I win," when winning means, "I pay no federal income taxes!"
In Trumpian fashion, the plan, announced Monday, goes bigger than Trump's Republican presidential rivals -- particularly Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio -- on almost every front. Bigger rate cuts, bigger drop in the number of Americans who pay the IRS. Almost certainly, when independent analysts wade into the details, bigger federal budget deficits. (Trump projects the plan will actually start to reduce the deficit within three years, which means he's probably using bigger projected growth effects, too.)
It's a populist plan in the sense that it includes many very popular things -- and also some things that are designed to be unpopular with a crowd of people who are, themselves, unpopular.
It promises to let middle-class Americans keep more of their money, and it promises to stick it to hedge fund managers and to big corporations who shipped jobs overseas.
But it does not soak the rich in the end, not even a little bit.
It's true that corporate executives won't like Trump's plan to force them to pay a 10 percent tax on cash stashed overseas, or his plan to make them pay taxes immediately on future revenues earned abroad. The hedge fund guys won't like his plan to end some tax preferences that help Wall Street, which, incidentally, is one of many parts of the Trump plan that echo or mimic Bush. High earners probably won't like his relatively vague plan to eliminate most of their existing tax deductions.
You know what they will like? His proposed top income tax rate of 25 percent and his proposed top corporate tax rate of 15 percent, which are both lower than what Rubio or Bush proposed. Those rate cuts will almost certainly offset the extra taxes most high earners and their companies would pay under Trump's plan, and then some.
Enterprising high earners will also note that Trump has proposed a new 15 percent business tax, matching the corporate rate, that's meant to level the playing field for "freelancers, sole proprietors, unincorporated small businesses and pass-through entities." That presumably spells a tax cut for high-earning Uber drivers, and it offers an incentive for well-off executives to get creative. Who will be America's first freelance CEO?
Many middle-class Americans would absolutely pay lower taxes. Trump would exempt households earning up to $50,000 from the income tax, a cut he estimates would leave the country with 73 million households who pay no federal income tax. They are the ones who get to send the IRS the single-page form that declares them, in Trump's words, to be winners. And they will be -- at least until the time comes to figure out who's going to pay for all this winning, in the event that the winning does not, in fact, pay for itself.