Throughout his run for the presidency, Donald Trump has frequently talked about raising taxes on rich people. He has never actually put forth a plan to do so. Every outside analysis of his tax plan finds it would reduce taxes for the highest-earning Americans, and by a substantially higher percentage than it would for the poor and the middle class.
Trump doesn't challenge those estimates. Instead, he falls back on a time-honored politician's move: He emphasizes one part of his plan that could, possibly, end up raising taxes on some rich people. That move was on full display in Sunday's presidential debate, when an undecided voter named Spencer Moss asked him, “What specific tax provisions will you change to ensure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in taxes?"
"One thing I’d do is get rid of carried interest," Trump said, referring to a tax break favored by many private equity investors on Wall Street. He then digressed into attacking his opponent, Hillary Clinton, for being in the pocket of the rich and powerful, and for not doing more as a senator from New York to end their tax breaks. "She never will change," Trump said. "We are getting rid of carried-interest provisions."
Clinton was incredulous. "Well, everything you’ve heard from Donald is not true," she said, adding: "His plan will give the wealthy and corporations the biggest tax cuts they have ever had."
It's easy to see why Trump wants voters to think he's raising taxes on the rich, even as he stresses his tax cuts for businesses and the middle class. It's a popular position. In April, Gallup reported that nearly 6 in 10 Americans think their federal income taxes are too high. More than 6 in 10 said upper-income Americans are not paying their "fair share" in taxes.
The problem is that Trump simply is not proposing a tax hike on the rich. He's not even proposing a tax hike on most hedge-fund managers. A variety of other items in Trump's plans could negate the effects of eliminating carried-interest provisions for the high earners who benefit from them now. He proposes to cut the top marginal income tax rate, and he might — this is unclear, because Trump's team still has not fully detailed this part of his plan — allow many partners at investment firms to pay a 15 percent business tax rate on their profits.
That 15 percent, by the way, is the rate Trump wants big corporations to pay on their income taxes, down from 35 percent today. He has been consistent on this point, pledging that such a cut will boost competitiveness and spur investment and economic growth. He touted that proposal in both debates, with no equivocation — even though it is hardly a crowd-pleasing move. In the Gallup poll, two-thirds of all respondents said corporations are not paying their fair share of taxes.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.