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Harsanyi: Democrats are fooling themselves about tax reform's unpopularity

According to political analysts, 2018 Democrats will use the just-passed tax reform as a way to argue that the Republican Party is the party of the plutocracy, which is another way of saying that Democrats are going to use the same argument they’ve been using for the past three decades with varying degrees of success.

A number of liberals have claimed that the passage of “unpopular” tax reform is historically analogous to the passage of Obamacare, which triggered the loss of hundreds of Democrat seats and, perhaps, control of the presidency.

This is wishful thinking for a number of reasons.

Yes, the tax bill is unpopular. Then again, I’m not sure you’ve noticed that everything Washington, D.C., tries to do is unpopular. Nothing polls well. Not the president. Not Congress. Not Democrats. Not legislation. Not even erstwhile popular vote-winning candidates. Certainly, a bill being bombarded with hysterical end-of-the-world claims that are rarely debunked by the political media is not going to be popular. Republicans won’t pass anything if they wait around for things to be popular.

However—apologies to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—they can be somewhat content knowing that voters will probably like it once they find out what’s in it.

Why do so many Americans believe that the middle class is getting a tax hike? Because outlets they trust are constantly lying to them. Both in framing and content, the coverage of the tax cuts has been impressively dishonest. “One-Third of Middle Class Families Could End up Paying More Under the GOP Tax Plan” writes Time Money (they won’t). An Associated Press headline reads, “House Passes First Rewrite of Nation’s Tax Laws in Three Decades, Providing Steep Tax Cuts for Businesses, the Wealthy.” And so on.

There will always be ideological arguments regarding the efficacy of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, but at some point people are going to find out that they’ve gotten one, too. The nonpartisan liberals at the Tax Policy Center concede that 80 percent of Americans will see a tax cut in 2018, and that the average cut will be $2,140—which might be something to scoff at in D.C., but I imagine a bunch of voters surprised by these savings will be less cynical. Only 4.8 percent of Americans will see a tax increase.

Like Obamacare, people don’t know what’s in the bill. But unlike Obamacare, the repeal of the individual insurance mandate gives millions a choice. The passage of Obamacare, after all, upended lives. The Affordable Care Act became synonymous with “health care insurance,” and voters attributed everything that went wrong with that insurance to the bill. And since Democrats offered a litany of fantastical promises about the future of health care, the disapproval was well deserved.

Millions began seeing their insurance plans discontinued as soon as Obamacare was implemented, despite assurances from the president and pliant Democrats that no such thing would happen. For many, premiums in the individual markets doubled over four years of Obamacare. Voters dealt with these tangible, real-life consequences.

Whatever valid concerns there are about debt or spending (and they are valid), it is unlikely that tax cuts will have similar long-term consequences on voting as those on health care. It is more likely that tax cuts will do little to change the dynamics of the coming years. But it is plausible that because of the overreaction from the left, millions of Americans who thought they were going pay more in taxes will find a new child credit and be thankful.

As an ideological matter, every time a Democrat claims that keeping more of your own money is tantamount to “stealing”—which happens often—voters should remember this is fundamentally a debate between people who believe the state should have first dibs on your property and people who don’t.

The only way to frame the bill as a tax hike is by using the 2025 expiration of individual rate cuts. And the only way they won’t be extended is if Democrats decide to raise taxes again. These are debates Republicans should embrace.

That’s not to say tax reform is a panacea for Republicans. It’s far from it. Historically speaking, the party in power will likely lose a bunch of seats in the 2018 midterms. But the claim, as Democrats are sure to make, that those losses are unique or tied to the toxicity of an agenda item—particularly a tax cut, which is generally popular among Americans (when they know it exists)—is far-fetched.

Other Views: It’s the perfect time to fire Robert Mueller

Rumors are flying that President Trump will try to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III by year’s end.

Although this nightmarish prospect can’t be counted as likely, and Trump insists he’s not contemplating it, there are several reasons why he will not see a better time to lower the boom—and the White House has surely taken them into account.

First, there are strong signs that Mueller may soon indict Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and advisor. Kushner’s lawyer has been quietly shopping for a crisis response team of the sort brought on board for criminal prosecutions. Kushner’s indictment would be a disaster for the president: Either his son-in-law goes to prison or cooperates by providing the mother lode of inculpatory information. Probably no one, except possibly Donald Trump Jr., knows more about Trump’s activities as president, candidate and entrepreneur. (Remember that Deutsche Bank, whose records Mueller recently subpoenaed, lent Kushner $285 million in addition to its highly questionable loans to Trump.)

Second, the coordinated onslaught against the FBI and Justice Department from Capitol Hill lends Trump a measure of cover for moving to shut down the investigation. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the majority whip, recently joined the chorus with a demand that “Mueller … clean house of partisans.” Never mind that the attacks are 100 percent bogus: Anti-Hillary Clinton sentiment among FBI agents in 2016 far outstripped—in quantity and quality—any mutterings against Trump. Equally bogus is the recent charge that Mueller improperly obtained emails of the Trump transition: There is no 4th Amendment protection of transition emails, which are on government servers with government addresses, and no executive privilege since the Trump team was not yet in office. These counterfeit arguments are strictly for public relations purposes.

Third, Congress will leave town for Christmas break, leaving Washington at its sleepiest and least prepared for a nimble response.

Fourth, Trump’s lawyers plans to soon meet with Mueller’s team, and the script has already been written. Trump’s team will ask about the progress of the investigation and when it will end; Mueller’s side will respond that there has been progress but there is still much to do and they cannot estimate an end date. Trump will then have his rabble-rousing talking point. For months, Trump’s lawyers and the White House staff have been claiming that, as Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated just Friday, “(w)e expect this process to wrap up soon.” There never was any basis for the expectation, which experienced prosecutors would find ludicrous, other than to set up a public argument that the inquiry has gone on too long and needs to be shut down.

There is one glaring problem with that position, which is that it is hard to see how the process can wrap up to the public’s satisfaction without testimony of some sort from Trump. But Trump’s lawyers may have concluded that he should avoid the expected reckoning with a skillful questioner, given the multiple, contradictory accounts of key events he has provided to date. The very best he could hope for would be the worst day of his public life, made to look like a doddering fool and forced into a refrain of “I don’t recall”s. Or he might answer some questions and expose himself to multiple counts of perjury.

As I’ve written before, if Trump does move to fire Mueller, we can’t count on immediate consequences.

He would first have to find someone at the Justice Department willing to be remembered as his political stooge. And he would have to force the resignations of everyone above that person. It might be years before the department is able to regain its full footing.

Mueller surely has already banked important evidence against the president by requiring his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, to give his full story to state authorities and possibly to a federal grand jury. But state attorneys general may not be able to step into the breach. The Office of Legal Counsel has issued two opinions concluding that the president cannot be indicted during his term in office; if that position is correct, it would imply that the federal Constitution likewise bars state authorities from bringing charges against a sitting president.

The focus, then, would turn to Congress. It’s possible lawmakers could reconstitute the investigation in some hobbled fashion, but the effort would take many months. And any attempt to actually remove the president from office would need to secure the support of 15 or so Senate Republicans, which still seems highly unlikely.

Crippled in public support and exposed as a boor and a rogue, Trump may yet survive to the end of his term—a feat he’ll define as “winning,” always his paramount concern. As he memorably promised the country more than a year ago, “we’re going to win so much, you’re going to be sick and tired of winning.”