Uh-Oh: Tim Ryan Becomes the Star of a Republican Tax Ad

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Democratic Representative Tim Ryan needs to learn how to talk about economic growth without letting himself be misconstrued as agreeing with the GOP.

Viewers of a new ad from the veteran Republican nonprofit group American Action Network promoting the GOP’s tax agenda might have been a mite surprised at its star:

The ad, entitled “Agree,” quotes Ryan as favoring tax simplification and lower corporate tax rates, and saying Democrats have to stand for growth as well as “redistribution.” That would be Democratic Representative Tim Ryan, a man almost invariably described as a “rising star” among donkeys, who launched a reasonably impressive if unsuccessful challenge to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shortly after the 2016 election.

AAN is not the only place where people heard Tim Ryan talk about taxes and thought he sounded like a Republican. After an interview with the Ohioan, the Hill did a piece with a headline that probably made Ryan’s press secretary spew coffee: “Rising Dem star Tim Ryan splits with party, endorses corporate tax cuts.” It went on to suggest while Pelosi was taking the traditional Democratic line on tax legislation, her former rival wanted to go in a more “business-friendly” direction.

As David Weigel aptly tweeted: “The mystery of why Ryan has been a ‘rising star’ but never actually risen is being solved.”

But Weigel also wrote a background story indicating that Ryan’s remarks (apparently on two occasions) had been taken pretty badly out of context, though the congressman set himself up with a lack of message discipline. In a follow-up statement, Ryan supplied a much broader perspective:

Any debate about tax reform must balance a competitive corporate tax rate with provisions that encourage corporate responsibility through higher taxes on capital gains and dividends as well as increased capital investment in America’s workforce. We should be prioritizing provisions like a $1 trillion expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to put thousands of dollars back in the pockets of hardworking Americans, child tax credits, and increased standard deductions that poor and working families have been craving for decades.”

AAN is certainly not going to run ads promoting that agenda.

But Ryan really ought to understand that you don’t have to talk about corporate tax cuts to avoid the impression that he and other Democrats have an economic agenda that goes beyond “redistribution of wealth.” For eons, Democrats have talked fluidly about economic growth being the product of the skills and hard work of the middle class — of human capital, not just investment capital. Indeed, half the point of redistribution is to fuel that engine of growth, which is short-changed by economic inequality. Conceding that Democrats have to endorse Republican tax policy in order to have something to say about growth is a terrible and unforced error. And even if Ryan doesn’t actually think that way, he sounded that way, albeit out of context.

For his sake, let’s hope Tim Ryan gets this straight before his potentially career-shaping appearance at the Polk County Steak Fry in Iowa next month. Believe me, the activists there will not want to hear Ryan talk about corporate tax cuts. And if he avoids that kind of talk, and gets a more appropriate “growth” rap memorized, the odds of him being featured in another pro-GOP, pro-Trump ad will go way down.

Uh-Oh: Tim Ryan Becomes the Star of a Republican Tax Ad