Some Republicans are still clinging to the idea that they can sell their tax giveaway to rich corporations and billionaires during this year midterm election cycle. But they insist Trump is stepping all over their plans with his erratic behavior and muddled messaging.
Republicans seem to be less willing to acknowledge reality that the party’s signature legislative achievement under Trump is simply widely unpopular with voters.
“People aren’t talking about it enough, and when people aren’t talking about it enough, that’s a problem,” Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told the Washington Examiner.
It’s pretty clear, though, that Trump is the one who isn’t talking enough about it. Instead, he’s been focused on trying to start a trade war, when not denigrating immigrants or lashing out at former FBI Director James Comey and special counsel Robert Mueller.
Earlier this month, for instance, Trump traveled to West Virginia for what was billed as a “Roundtable Discussion on Tax Reform.” But he quickly ditched his prepared remarks about taxes, calling them “boring,” and turned the event into ugly political rally.
“Remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower?” he said, referring to his racist campaign kick-off in 2015. “I used the word ‘rape.’ And yesterday it came out where, this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody’s ever seen before.”
Indeed, Trump’s erratic behavior makes it nearly impossible for Republican to focus a public discussion on taxes. In recent weeks, Trump and the White House have become completely consumed by the Stormy Daniels hush-money scandal, as well as the blockbuster news that the FBI raided the office and home of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, were raided.
It also can’t help that Speaker Paul Ryan, the chief proponent of the tax bill, has essentially admitted defeat and decided to retire from Congress at the end of his term, making him a far less effective messenger.
But would focusing on the tax bill actually help Republicans? Not likely.
Nationally, just 27 percent of Americans approve of the bill, which Republicans thought was going to be the hallmark of their midterm campaigns. Indeed, at the time of the signing, Trump bragged, “I don’t think I’m going to have to travel too much to sell it. I think it’s selling itself.”
For Californians, the tax bill is particularly harmful. Tax hikes will arrive for millions of residents, including homeowners in Los Angeles, who will see a 30-year mortgage cost up to $76,000 more. In Orange County, homeowners could see a tax hike of $4,500 this year. With these kind of tax hikes, it is not surprising that 61 percent of Californians disapprove of the tax bill.
Privately, Republicans have reason to panic because they already know the tax bill isn’t working electorally. It’s not working in purple states (Virginia), and it’s not working in red states (Alabama). In both those places, Republicans last year lost statewide races they thought they could win, in part by running on a tax cut agenda.
Republicans also tried that in Pennsylvania, for the special election in the 18th District. GOP-friendly groups initially spent heavily on pro-tax cut television ads, only to pull them when it became clear the message was not resonating with voters, who flipped the solidly Republican district blue last month.
And oh yeah, Trump still won’t release his tax returns. Americans have likely noticed that.