Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: The calm before the storm

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DonkeyHotey / Flickr Donald Trump Portrait...
DonkeyHotey / Flickr

Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes/Foreign Policy:

Congressional Republicans Are Pulling a Bait-and-Switch in the Trump-Russia Investigation

Signs are mounting that the House Intelligence Committee plans on prematurely abdicating its work.

That means it’s on the public to evaluate whether the House Intelligence Committee investigation has genuinely reached its appropriate conclusion. Is this simply a partisan “witch hunt” that Democrats are seeking to draw out to inflict maximum damage on the Trump administration, the mirror image of the contentious Benghazi investigation that Democrats insisted was a purely partisan endeavor? Or, conversely, are Republicans engaged in a cover-up, putting on a show of interviews and document review to appease the public while seeking to avoid damaging truths?

One way to answer these questions is to return to the beginning. What was the scope of the investigation in the first place? Do we have the answers that the endeavor set out to uncover?

Joe Scarborough/WaPO:

Trump’s working-class supporters are about to pay the price

The richest Americans are paying nothing, and it is ridiculous. These guys shift paper around, and they get lucky. These hedge-fund guys are getting away with murder, when you have one who is making $200 million a year and paying very low taxes. It’s not fair. And it tells people a lot. The middle class is getting absolutely destroyed. This country won’t have a middle class soon. It’s got to end.

David Corn/Mother Jones:

Donald Trump’s Holiday Gift to America: A Fundamental Crisis

Deck the halls with an assault on the principles, norms, and purpose of democratic governance.

The crisis is not rooted in Trump’s advocacy of conservative policies—the Muslim ban, tax breaks for the wealthy, hollowing out the State Department, killing climate change action. Nor is it triggered by his rude and classless behavior, as he spends long hours watching cable news, consuming Diet Coke, and rushing to Twitter to attend to petty grievances, instead of working diligently to advance the interests of the citizenry. The country can survive bad policies and an immature and erratic commander in chief (unless, of course, his recklessness leads to nuclear war). What the United States faces this holiday season is an unparalleled, widespread, Trump-inspired assault on the principles, norms, and purpose of democratic governance.

They may be trying, but that doesn’t mean it’s working.

Amy Walter/Cook Political Report:

Lots of folks think of Trump’s “base” as those folks who show up to his rallies. However, his base also encompasses those who don’t and won’t come to a rally. A fear of a Clinton presidency may have been enough to get them to vote for Trump in 2016, but will Trump’s erratic temperament and their lackluster support of the GOP’s signature policy achievement in Congress, keep them home in 2018.

Politico:

Republicans warn Trump of 2018 bloodbath

The White House knows the midterm election will probably be bad. Behind the scenes, top aides are scrambling to avoid the worst.

Among GOP leaders, however, there is widespread concern heading into 2018. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said privately that both chambers could be lost in November. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has told donors that he fears a wave of swing district Republican lawmakers could retire rather than seek reelection.

During a conference meeting last week, House Republicans listened as the past five chairmen of the party’s campaign arm addressed the political environment. One endangered lawmaker said his main takeaway was that incumbents should spend little time worrying about Trump or the White House and focus only on controlling what they can. Another person who was present came away with the impression that if lawmakers didn’t shore up their political standing now, they shouldn’t expect the national party to be able to save them down the road.

The tipping point is an 8 point Dem lead. This conservative estimate does not include all polls because of wording differences (control congress vs who are you voting for, e.g.). And it’s up to 59% this morning. The point is the recent jump and the steady trend. The economy and this tax bill won’t save them.

James Hohmann/WaPo:

10 reasons Democrats think the tax bill will be a political loser for Trump’s GOP in the midterms

Yesterday’s Daily 202 argued that 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 two-and-a-half years I’ve been 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 in town and campaign managers in the states, argued passionately that the tax bill is not 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.

David Frum/Atlantic:

Republicans Exact Their Revenge Through a Tax Bill

Instead of eliminating favoritism, the GOP’s reforms load the costs of the state upon disfavored persons, groups, and regions.

Most American businesses do not pay the corporate income tax. They pay through the individual tax system. So long as the corporate rate and the individual rate more or less tracked each other, this fact did not muck things up too much.

But once the decision was made to lower the corporate rate so substantially, those other businesses faced a heavy tax penalty. What to do? The congressional GOP’s answer: Let them pay at a new radically lower “pass through” rate.

The implications of the pass-through decision are staggering. Not only is it massively disruptive of federal revenues, but it wildly distorts decision-making throughout the private economy. Adam Looney at the Brookings Institution computes:

If a plumber makes $60,000 a year as wages paid by an employer, he or she will pay 60 percent more in income taxes than if that plumber had been a sole proprietor or self-employed and takes advantage of the pass-through rate.

As of 2014, there were already 30 million pass-through businesses in the United States.  Under the new incentives, there will instantly appear many millions more. To deal with the ensuing revenue loss, Congress had to squeeze somebody. Upper-income blue-state residents got the chop.

Amber Phillips/WaPo:

Republicans just passed a tax bill. Democrats think the GOP just signed its death certificate.

But Democrats have calculated that a mix of public perception and the popularity of populism has made this bill toxic to voters. They are convinced that cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations while giving the middle class a temporary tax cut strikes the wrong tone. And polls suggest Democrats are right. Polls consistently show that only about a third of the country supports the bill, while two-thirds think it will mainly benefit the wealth

Jane Coaston/NY Times Magazine:

When ‘Conservatives’ Turned Into Radicals

But this dynamic had been clear for at least a decade. From my first year of college to the weeks in which, as editor in chief, I closed my final edition of the paper, I came to a realization: Whatever conservatism told me it was intellectually — whatever ideas we discussed, whatever policy papers I read — could never compete with what conservatism was in practice. At the conferences the Collegiate Network sent me to, no one was discussing tax policy or the nature of effective governance; they were debating whether Barack Obama was a “real” American and whether Sarah Palin could unseat him in 2012, based on pure and unfettered loathing. Nothing was being conserved.

Conservative voters have known this for some time. This is why they voted last year for a president who swore not to preserve but to upend. Since Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for the presidency, Republicans have worked to maintain a two-tiered party — one for the ideologues who believed in Burke and Buckley, free markets and free minds, and one for the voters, who are often moved less by a system of ideas than by id and grievance. It was always the voters, though, who really mattered. And it was the voters who won.

Sam Tanenhaus/Esquire:

On the Right, “neoconservative” carries a second, explicitly cultural depth charge, as Boot acknowledges when he says that “Jewish conservative intellectuals, with a few exceptions, have been pretty stalwart.” That’s not surprising, given the anti-Semitic odor that clings to the alt-right pockets of Trumpism. It also stirs troubling memories of the long history of white ethnocentrism on the American Right, from the Depression-era demagoguery of Father Coughlin through the “Christian Front”–style offensives against the civil-rights movement in the fifties, up through Pat Buchanan’s attacks on the pro-Israel “Jewish lobby.”

This may explain the Never Trumpers’ defensiveness. “I’m a registered Republican,” Frum told me recently, as if trying to convince himself that the party he once belonged to still exists . . . somewhere. Across the continent, possibly? “If I lived in California,” he speculated, “I’m sure I’d be voting for Republican members of the state legislature or a Republican candidate for governor”—but not, he allows, if he lived in Alabama.

Of course, Frum knows very well that Republicans have no power in California and frighteningly much in Alabama.


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