During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised that he would ultimately support a plan that would raise taxes on high-income earners, including himself. “It’s going to cost me a fortune, which is actually true,” he said at one point, going out of his way to emphasize that this promise was one of his rare, non-false claims (“which is actually true”). His Treasury secretary later promised that the Trump tax plan would not provide high-income earners with net tax reduction. So when Trump unveiled his tax plan this week, the most important revelation was that Trump’s promise was not actually true. His plan describes a massive tax cut for the rich.
A number of conservatives — Kimberley Strassel, Rich Lowry, Guy Benson — took exception to a New York Times headline emphasizing the plan’s regressive nature. But the fact that the plan would overwhelmingly and disproportionately benefit the affluent is not only undeniable, but is the sole, clear effect of an otherwise hazy proposal.
Cutting taxes on affluent people has been the Republican Party’s number-one policy objective for more than a quarter century. Republicans are not merely interested in cutting taxes on the whole, they take special exception to the most progressive ones — which is why they ignore regressive taxes, like the payroll tax, while proposing the deepest cuts for taxation of capital income. They have hewed relentlessly to this goal during recessions and booms, in the minority and in the majority, and they believe in this policy for a combination of moral and economic reasons.
However, since this policy is highly unpopular with the public, Republicans have grown habituated to obscuring this intent. Their messaging is built around lying about, or obscuring, the distributional impact of their tax policies. In the past, they have had a lot of success bullying the mainstream news media into treating the distributional impact of their policies as a contested question of partisan spin, rather than something that can be measured in fairly straightforward fashion. So, now that Republicans have rolled out another massively regressive tax cut, they’re going to spend a lot of time insisting that the news media should not report this fact.