The Corner

Politics & Policy

Re: The Republican Bet on Tax Reform

In response to De Soto’s Excellent Path

Jonah asks — fairly, I think — whether the tax bill will be Republicans’ Obamacare

There are, of course, some obvious differences here. I suspect that it’ll be harder for voters to get angry that they’re paying less in taxes — even if they are worried about the deficit (as I am), or have an ideological problem with this bill — than it will be for voters to get angry because their taxes went up or because they lost their plan or because their doctor no longer took their insurance. I also suspect that because the initial experiences with tax reform will be surprising — “oh, I actually have more money!” — some of the edge will be taken off. Mostly, this bill has the government making fewer, not more, claims upon the contemporary voters.

But I’m also not sure that Jonah’s suspicion is wrong. Imagining the possibilities, he writes:

If the economy roars, sustainably, my hunch is that the benefits for the rich won’t count for much. But if the economy doesn’t take off or if we hit some other snag, it won’t be hard for Democrats to make this thing into an albatross. They’ve already managed to make most Americans hate this bill — unfairly in my opinion. If the economic winds blow their way, this could be their Obamacare – in the sense that it will simply be a scare word they can use relentlessly.

Perhaps. But I’m not convinced that even a roaring economy can reverse what is likely coming in the midterms. Likewise, I’m not convinced that the discovery that almost everyone has got a tax cut is going to matter much to the popularity of this bill, or of the GOP. Why? Because I don’t think “it’s the economy, stupid” is true any more. It’s not the economy that drove Donald Trump into office, and it won’t be the economy that yields the backlash. We could have 4 percent growth, a booming stock market, and record low unemployment, and our flash points will remain nevertheless. The culture war will rage on. Donald Trump will still be unfit for office. Partisanship will attach itself to every last part of our culture. It’s not the ’90s any more.


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