Death and Taxes: Will the GOP’s tax bill hold off Democrats in 2018?

You can breathe a sigh of relief.  Tax day has come and gone. But the GOP has a lot to be worried about.   Their national campaign committees are leading another push to remind Americans that their Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is worth their votes in 2018.

It’s not working.  The New York Times reports that media coverage of the tax bill has dropped.  When Donald Trump landed in West Virginia for a roundtable to tout the GOP Congress’ tax cuts, he threw out his script.  Instead, he went on a rant about trade and immigration.  The President criss-crossed through key 2018 midterm election states on his tax cuts tour. He couldn’t be bothered to talk about the tax cuts. When the head of your party rejects your signature Congressional accomplishment, you’ve got a big problem.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is bracing for a “category 3, 4, 5” headwinds in 2018.  Paul Ryan is leaving. Yikes.

Voters aren’t interested in the tax bill either.  The Hill and CNBC report that the bill remains unpopular in recent polling (although opinion is slightly improving).  In Conor Lamb’s PA-18 upset victory, Republicans abandoned their tax cut message and reverted back to immigration rhetoric, personal attacks, and attacks on Nancy Pelosi.  Americans don’t believe they’ve seen a change in their paycheck after the Trump tax cuts.  The Republican majority in Congress meant to pass a bill that couldn’t be ignored by Democratic incumbents.  They hoped it would twist the arm of vulnerable red-state Democrats into voting for the bill, or, even better, allow GOP ad-makers to shred the Democrats who voted against tax cuts.  

Public opinion fell short of Republicans’ hopes.  Progressive Democrats have picked apart the tax bill.  They’re saying that Democrats are the party of fiscal responsibility after Republicans cut taxes and increased government spending in recent legislation.  They’re asking why Republicans made individual tax cuts temporary and corporate tax cuts permanent.  Red-state Democrats bob-and-weave through GOP attacks as their GOP opponents answer criticism of the bill.  

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was an excellent opportunity for Republicans to hold off the “blue wave” that the media is raving about (and we are, too).  The Republican majorities put all of their weight behind the bill.  They exhausted the reconciliation rule to bypass the Senate’s 60-votes-required logjam.  It was a saving throw to put Democrats in the worst position possible in 2018. It failed. It’s hard to picture a midterm-year Congress pulling together to pass legislation to tip the scales in the Republicans favor.  There will certainly be incremental votes to try to expose vulnerable Democrats and validate their positions on key wedge issues, such as gun control and abortion.

In 2018, Republicans will live-and-die with the popularity of President Donald Trump.  The public relations failure of the tax bill sealed their fate.

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