It Begins: GOP Prepares to Fight Back With Post-Passage Blitz on Tax Reform

Posted: Dec 21, 2017 11:00 AM

The voting is over, and the die is cast.  Democrats lost the legislative fight, but clearly won the first big battle of the messaging war over tax reform, teaming up with the media to wrongly convince a majority of Americans that they'll be worse off under the GOP plan.  Yes, there are a few decent numbers floating around out there, but most surveys show widespread confusion and rampant misperceptions.  For instance, here is an absolutely remarkable data point plucked from the Wall Street Journal's poll:

Just 17 percent of Americans believe they'll see a tax cut under the Republican proposal.  The data-based truth, as relayed by even left-leaning nonpartisan sources and noted by Rubin above, pegs that number at 80 percent.  That's a 'reality gap' of more than 60 points, which is breathtaking.  Even with all of their structural advantages, it takes real skill to distort the facts and manipulate so many people, so profoundly.  Republicans are hoping that the proof will be in the proverbial pudding.  Democrats and the press may be able to lie about what might happen, but it's harder to persuade people that their paychecks haven't gotten bigger when they really have -- as clearly evidenced in the black and white numbers.  But perhaps Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the editorial board of the New York Times have prepared a cunning plot to insist, for example, that the number two is actually smaller than the number one.  We'll see.  The Washington Post's James Hohmann suggests that unlike Obamacare, where proponent's lies were exposed and confirmed post-implementation, the opposite effect may take place on tax reform.  He writes, "the tax bill is likely to become more popular after passage," explaining some of the reasons here:

Here’s the truth: 8 in 10 Americans will pay lower taxes next year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the final bill. Only 5 percent of people will pay more next year. Mostly, those are folks who earn six figures and own expensive houses in places with high local taxes, such as New York and California... it’s remarkable that not a single Democrat in either chamber voted for this, including all 10 of the senators up for reelection next year in states Trump won. “Democratic obstruction of middle-class tax reform will be our No. 1 issue going into next year’s elections,” said Senate Leadership Fund President and CEO Steven Law, a former chief of staff to Mitch McConnell...Bottom line: Nancy Pelosi says, “This is Armageddon.” But the sky will not fall...For at least the next eight years, though, the undeniable math is that most people are going to pay less. Republicans say the reason that economists say people’s taxes will go up after a decade is that they needed to make the income tax cuts temporary to comply with budget reconciliation rules. They believe it’s inevitable that a future Congress will vote to extend them, and that they will have a wedge issue against Democrats if that doesn’t happen.

That's certainly the GOP's sincere hope, but they must work hard to improve their own fortunes, too.  Hohmann quotes a number of Republican and conservative strategists who agree that the Right must mobilize to trumpet the bill's major successes for the overwhelming majority of Americans, and some outside groups have pledged to go up on air with reinforcing messages almost immediately: "I interviewed a dozen GOP operatives yesterday about how they plan to deal with this issue in 2018. They said the numbers right now are so bad that they can only get better. They freely acknowledged the head winds, but they see an opening to sell the cuts and insist that perceptions are still not fully baked. They’ve conducted focus groups and commissioned polls to figure out the talking points that are most likely to move the needle, and they’re planning multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns to drive those messages."  Click through for more specific strategies, as detailed by leaders from groups like the American Action Network, Americans for Prosperity and the 45Committee.  This is how the RNC is wading into the ideological tug of war:

For several months, state Republican Party affiliates have been pushing the GOP tax bill through a quiet “ground game” initiative targeting voters in states that are emerging as potential 2018 battlegrounds — even before the final contours and details of the package were set by GOP negotiators on Capitol Hill. In total, according to Republican National Committee data provided exclusively to Morning Consult, GOP volunteers and operatives have knocked on over 364,000 doors and made over 145,000 phone calls in 18 states from the first week of September through Dec. 14...Some Republicans view the campaign — which has been prominent in major battlegrounds like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada — as a dry run for next year’s midterm elections, in which the GOP will defend majorities in both the House and the Senate...“Utilizing a national field program to promote policy, not just candidates, is unprecedented,” McDaniel said in a statement provided to Morning Consult Monday. In addition to door-knocking and phone-banking, the initiative has involved the circulation of a petition supporting the tax overhaul effort, along with meetings in congressional districts either to explain the tax plan or to recruit new supporters of the GOP’s agenda.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is already out with an early (positive) salvo in this fight, which will play out for months in 2018:

Emphasizing promises kept and benefits to working Americans is obviously a key component to all of this, but there are also sharp "contrast" attacks to mount against Democrats -- especially those who represent states Donald Trump won by double-digits in 2016. A few bullets, for starters:

We already know the counterarguments from the Democrats, most of which fall into one of three categories: Straight-up panic-stoking lies, lies of omission, and misleading, context-free cherry-picking.  Because a disproportionate number of the 4.8 percent of Americans who will see an appreciable tax increase under the plan live in high-tax blue states like California and New York, Democrats are training their earliest fire on Republicans representing districts where the "losers" will be most highly concentrated (even as they represent a tiny fraction of their states' populations).  Digital ads from the DCCC are going up in California.  I'll leave you with my responses to a challenge from left-leaning policy writer Derek Thompson, who wonders how I can support a deficit-increasing tax plan after sounding the alarm over deficits and debt throughout the Obama years.  After noting that I've also maintained my concerns about the national debt during the Trump era, I made a two points -- one policy-related, the other philosophical:

As you consider these questions, here are the analyses of some economists who believe reform-fueled GDP growth will significantly outpace the Joint Committee on Taxation's very modest growth estimates.  Also, if you have a few moments, read this review of the now-passed bill from economist Brian Riedl, whom I've quoted often during the tax debate.  Far from being a cheerleading shill, he reviews the legislative elements and gives the overall package a B-minus.  Read why: