The Republican Party wants to cut taxes on rich people. The vast majority of the American voters — including Republican ones — do not like that idea. This is a problem for the GOP, since our political system still has a few of the trappings of a representative democracy.
But it’s not, necessarily, a fatal problem. After all, Republicans have taken pains to build an epistemic wall around their core voters, by delegitimizing the mainstream media, academics, or any kind of expert who does not flatter Sean Hannity’s intuitions. And this wall makes it relatively easy for conservative politicians to tell their supporters bald-faced lies. For example, President Trump recently said that he would not benefit from his own tax plan, despite the fact that said plan cuts the Trump Organization’s tax rate by nearly 15 points, while abolishing the tax on multi-million-dollar estates. Instead, Trump insisted that his plan was a “middle-class tax cut” that would deliver the bulk of its benefits to ordinary, hardworking Americans.
When nonpartisan research institutes, like the Tax Policy Center, began highlighting the fact that this is not true, conservative politicians and media outlets quickly set about reinforcing the GOP base’s epistemic barriers. “Tax Policy Center? More like Joe Biden’s National Tax Center!” budget director Mick Mulvaney basically said on Fox News Sunday. The Wall Street Journal editorial page proceeded to assure conservatives that the think tank’s analysis — which showed that 80 percent of the benefits of Trump’s tax cuts would accrue to the top one percent, while a significant swathe of the middle class might actually see a net tax increase — was mere left-wing “propaganda.”
And then, on Monday afternoon, Rand Paul merrily took a sledgehammer to a load-bearing piece of that aforementioned (epistemic) wall.
The Kentucky senator has previously demanded that every taxpayer see at least a 15 percent tax cut under the GOP plan. Given how much some upper-middle-class taxpayers rely on specific exemptions and deductions, meeting Paul’s standard would likely require Republicans to give up on offsetting their giant rate cuts by closing any significant loopholes at all. Which is to say: It would require them to swell the deficit by an ideologically untenable margin, or else, to cut social spending by a politically toxic one.
But while Paul’s legislative demands are detached from reality, his observation about the GOP plan’s distributional effects very much aren’t. And that’s bad news for the Republican Party. A conservative senator has now affirmed the realities that:
(1) The Tax Policy Center isn’t a socialist propaganda outlet.
(2) The GOP’s “middle-class tax cut” is anything but.
Paul’s tweet echoes a dynamic we saw during the Obamacare-repeal effort, when far-right critics of Trumpcare began latching onto populist arguments against it. In June, Utah senator Mike Lee complained that the GOP leadership’s health-care bill cut “spending on the poor to pay for corporate bailouts and tax cuts.” Weeks later, capital-gains tax cuts fell out of Trumpcare. Weeks after that, the bill was dead.