Republicans Blaming Trump For Declining Support For Tax Bill
Republicans are blaming the President for the fading popularity of the tax reform law passed in December. It's more complicated than that.
As I noted yesterday, public support for the tax reform bill passed last December has been steadily declining in recent months, upending Republican hopes that the issue would be one of the things they could rely on in the efforts to hold on to control of Congress in this year’s midterm elections. Today, the Washington Examiner reports that Republicans on Capitol Hill are focusing the blame for that decline on President Trump, his Administration, and the erratic messaging coming out of the White House:
President Trump is undermining voter support for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act with erratic messaging after it was gaining popularity, alarming Republicans counting on the law to save the party’s vulnerable House majority.
Senior Republicans are declining to publicly finger Trump for the heralded tax overhaul’s sagging approval ratings. Views of the law steadily climbed during the first two months of the year on the strength of a unified push from the White House and Capitol Hill ahead of the midterm.
Privately, Republicans complain that the president’s sudden shift to tariffs, with threats of trade wars, distracted from the positive impacts of $1.3 trillion in tax cuts and allowed Democrats to regain the upper hand. Concluding that Trump is unreliable, Republicans say it’s their responsibility to turn public opinion around.
“People aren’t talking about it enough, and when people aren’t talking about it enough, that’s a problem,” Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Tuesday, of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. “Our guys need to be talking about the tax bill more; that’s one of the things that I talked about in conference this morning.”
Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration were on the same page the past few days, promoting the first rewrite of the U.S. tax code to coincide with the annual deadline to pay state and federal income taxes. Vice President Mike Pence has stayed focused on the tax law, campaigning for it during a series of town hall events.
But Trump, the Republican Party’s loudest megaphone, is a mercurial politician. He signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in late December, and spent January and February touting the law, taking every opportunity to credit accelerating economic growth, employee bonuses, new jobs, and wage gains to the overhaul.
That lasted until early March, when the president veered off script to propose steep tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. Trump said the country was suffering from unfair trade practices. Since then, the economy has continued to hum, but approval ratings for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act have eroded.
n a fresh NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey conducted jointly by Democratic and Republican pollsters, the law was underwater: 27 percent approved, 36 percent disapproved. Those results track with private data Republicans have monitored, sparking anxiety about their chances of surviving a tough November election with their House majority intact.
“Republicans have a lot of work in front of them to make sure people understand the benefits of the tax bill, and nobody is going to be driving this but them. They need to understand that it’s not just — we’ve done this, let’s go on to the next thing,” said David Winston, a GOP pollster who advises House and Senate Republicans.
“The signature achievement for Congressional Republicans for this Congress will have been the tax bill — no matter what else they do,” he added.
Based just on the events of the past several weeks, there is no small degree of merit in the criticism of Congressional Republicans that is being directed at the White House. Rather than talking up the talk bill at a recent speech in West Virginia that was supposed to be devoted to that very topic, Trump literally threw away the script of the speech that had been written for him to deliver that day and went off on a long, confusing rant that harkened back to the campaign, Hillary Clinton, and the comment he made about Mexican ‘rapists’ during his very first speech as a Presidential candidate. Additionally, during this time Trump has used his Twitter account to rant against enemies real and perceived and to engage in attacks on the Mueller investigation, the F.B.I., and the Justice Department that have become increasingly unhinged. His White House meanwhile, has done nothing to advance talk regarding the tax bill and its alleged benefits and has seemingly ignored the issue for the past several weeks at least. Given all of that, it’s easy to see why Republicans on Capitol Hill, and Republican candidates for office, would be upset with the President and his advisors for the extent to which they’ve managed to divert public attention away from the one issue that Republicans want to rely on the most in the upcoming elections.
Notwithstanding all of this, it strikes me that Republicans are placing far too much of the blame for their predicament on the White House and not focusing on other problems they face with regard to the tax bill. For one thing, while it’s true that the White House has basically pushed the tax reform bill to the side over the past several weeks and months, the same can be said about Republicans in general. During the recent Special Election in Pennsylvania, for example, both the candidate and the outside groups that were advertising on his behalf largely abandoned their tax cut message in the weeks leading up to the election. To some degree, it appears that this is because they were finding that the issue was not resonating with voters in the way that they hoped it would. Additionally, much of the good press that the new law received in the initial wake of its passage in the form of announcement of wage increases and bonuses for workers has ended and it has become apparent that much of the savings corporations are starting to see from the bill is being recycled into stock buybacks rather than wage increases, new hiring, or expansion. Finally, polling has shown that public support for the tax law has declined steadily since December. Given all of this, the reasons that the tax bill has faded from public consciousness is due to much more than just the diversions of the Trump Administration.
Rather than simply blaming all of this on Trump, Republicans ought to be looking more deeply at the reasons why the tax reform bill is proving to be an ineffective rallying tool around the country. Perhaps if they did they might figure out that relying on this one measure to save them in November is misplaced.