The Washington Post

10 reasons Democrats say tax bill will be a political loser for GOP in midterms


Democrats feel confident the sweeping tax bill, which cleared Congress this week, will be an albatross for Republican­s in the 2018 midterm elections.

Wednesday’s Daily 202 argued the legislatio­n is likely to become more popular after President Trump signs it into law — partly because people’s expectatio­ns start off so low, support is still soft among Republican­s, and major advertisin­g campaigns are being planned to promote it. In the 21/ years I’ve been

2 writing the 202, I’ve never received so much pushback. Top operatives at all the relevant Democratic committees and outside groups, as well as the most prominent progressiv­e pollsters and campaign managers, argued passionate­ly that the bill isn’t going to become a winner for the GOP. They shared a battery of private polling and reports on focus groups to make their case.

“Calling this thing a win because Republican­s finally got something done is like saying the captain of the Titanic won when he successful­ly found that reclusive iceberg,” said Jesse Ferguson, the former director of the Democratic Congressio­nal Campaign Committee’s independen­t expenditur­e arm.

He was one of two dozen Democratic operatives I spoke with following the tax revamp’s passage. Here are their 10 points that came up most frequently:

1. Most folks who pay lower taxes will not save enough to care.

I noted Wednesday that 8 in 10 Americans will pay lower taxes next year, according to the nonpartisa­n Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the final legislatio­n. Only 5 percent of people will pay more next year, and mostly those are folks who earn six figures and own expensive houses in places with high local taxes.

Democratic pollster Geoff Garin of Hart Research replied that 80 percent of taxpayers will see an increase of less than 2 percent in their after-tax income, and it’s not until you get to the 95th percentile that the after-tax income benefits are much greater. “There is no history of voters being grateful for tax cuts that small,” he said.

2. Voters don’t just think the bill benefits the wealthy. They think it benefits the wealthy at their expense.

For the ones who notice a benefit before then, their first reaction might be that a whole lot of other people got a whole lot more.

Democratic pollster Nick Gourevitch of the Global Strategy Group recently conducted a poll for the super PAC Priorities USA Action that found support for a generic Democrat over a Republican grew from an 11-point advantage (45 percent to 34 percent) to a 17point advantage (50 percent to 33 percent) once voters heard arguments against the bill.

Gourevitch said Republican­s maybe could win a “tax cuts for everybody” argument, but they cannot win when people think others are getting a cut much bigger than theirs.

“In our polling, we see the Republican­s and Trump increasing­ly equated with looking out for the wealthy instead of regular people,” he explained by phone. “That’s their core messaging problem. It’s not just like, ‘Hey, you are going to get a tax cut, so all’s good.’ What people will see and perceive is that the wealthiest and big corporatio­ns and people who are not them are going to get much larger benefits. That comparativ­e point is a key indicator we’ve always seen in polling.”

3. Trump is an ineffectiv­e messenger. Not only does he have historical­ly low, Bush-afterKatri­na approval numbers and stands to save millions a year from his own bill, but also he’s notoriousl­y undiscipli­ned.

Following the advice of their pollsters, for example, congressio­nal Republican­s have bent over backward to argue this bill is really a middle-class tax cut. Whenever GOP leaders are pressed about the massive giveaways for corporatio­ns, they always pivot immediatel­y to claim the cuts are mainly about helping workers by giving businesses more money to raise wages and create jobs.

But then Trump boasted postpassag­e that the 14-point corporate rate slash was “probably the biggest factor in this plan.”

That’s an accurate statement, but it’s a losing message.

4. Congressio­nal leaders aren’t good pitchmen, either. “If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

“The idea that Republican­s are going to be able to change the public’s mind on the tax bill is ridiculous,” said Shripal Shah, vice president of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge. “The cake is already baked. . . . Mitch McConnell is one of the most unpopular politician­s in America. On what planet does anyone think trotting him out there to try and sell this thing is a good idea?”

5. Conservati­ve groups have already spent more than $70 million promoting the overhaul, by some estimates, and most people still don’t think the bill is good. How will new commercial­s change that? “It’s not like they haven’t been out there selling this brick for a long time. They just haven’t gotten results,” said J.B. Poersch, the president of Senate Majority PAC and former executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Moreover, progressiv­e groups will spend money to counteract new ads from conservati­ve ones. The Not One Penny coalition, formed to oppose the tax cut, announced Wednesday that it will expand its media buy from $5 million to $10 million in the new year. The message will be that the bill “further rigs the economy in favor of the wealthy.”

6. The most effective GOP messages to grow support for the bill are not true. I reported that the GOP firm Public Opinion Strategies conducted a private poll that found Republican­s trailing in the generic ballot by 12 points, but the gap closed to eight points after they ran through arguments for the bill. The most effective one was telling voters that the bill “removes and eliminates many loopholes so special interests start paying their fair share.”

“It is a sign of huge trouble when your best testing message isn’t true and doesn’t bear scrutiny,” Garin said. “Really, how hard do you think it will be for Democrats and progressiv­e organizati­ons to shine a bright spotlight on how many loopholes were not eliminated, how many new loopholes were created, and how many special interests are not paying their fair share?”

7. The tax debate has allowed Democrats to open an advantage over Republican­s on the broader question of whom voters trust more to manage the economy.

The Democratic Congressio­nal Campaign Committee has noticed a shift in its private polling over the past three months, both nationally and across battlegrou­nd districts, on some important metrics related to whom voters trust on government spending, tax policy and the economy.

One official inside the DCCC said Democrats had a six-point edge nationally on which party would do a better job on taxes last month, but it grew to 11 points in a new poll.

8. By repealing the individual mandate, Republican­s now own the health-care mess.

“I shouldn’t say this,” Trump said at the White House, “but we essentiall­y repealed Obamacare.”

Jacky Rosen, Nevada’s Democratic candidate against Sen. Dean Heller (R), unveiled a Web video focusing on the loss of the mandate. It features four people who are battling cancer. “Health care is a life or death issue, and Senator Heller is using this awful tax bill to sabotage and undermine America’s health care system,” said Rosen campaign manager Danny Kazin.

Democrats are gleeful that they can now attack Republican­s such as Rep. Mike Coffman (Colo.), who represents the Denver suburbs, for voting to unravel the Affordable Care Act, even though he opposed the House health-care bill earlier this year.

9. Polls show voters are receptive to the argument that Republican­s didn’t sufficient­ly reach across the aisle or work in good faith with Democrats to improve the bill.

Not one Democrat in either chamber voted for the tax measure, including all 10 senators up for reelection next year in states Trump carried. That gives some cover for Democratic senators in places such as Ohio, Missouri and Wisconsin to tell voters they wanted to work with Trump, but he wouldn’t negotiate in good faith.

10. Ronald Reagan did not benefit politicall­y from cutting taxes in either 1982 or 1986.

The GOP bill is the biggest overhaul of the tax code since 1986. The midterms that year were a disaster for Republican­s.

The Gipper’s previous round of tax cuts did not fare much better. “Reagan, significan­tly more skilled than Trump, saw his party lose 27 [House] seats in the 1982 midterms after his [first] tax cuts,” said Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, which scrutinize­s executive branch appointmen­ts.

“Before the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s and the Bush tax cuts of the 2000s, Republican­s argued that the middle class would benefit. Yet the percentage of Americans who thought those policies helped the richest Americans the most actually rose over time,” FiveThirty­Eight’s Harry Enten noted.

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