Typically, House majorities will take pains to spare their most vulnerable members difficult votes. Paul Ryan’s caucus did the opposite in 2017.
The GOP has 28 House members from New York, New Jersey, and California. Many of them will seek reelection this fall in districts that Hillary Clinton won two years earlier. And yet, the Republican leadership wrote a tax plan that cuts taxes on virtually everyone — except many of the affluent professionals who make up the party’s blue-state base.
In capping the state-and-local-tax deduction (SALT) at $10,000, the GOP dramatically downsized a favorite benefit of well-heeled homeowners in high-tax states. In doing so a couple weeks before the end of the year, they forced this constituency to spend the holiday season in a frenzy of last-minute tax planning. Many a denizen of Nassau County — where the average SALT deduction in 2015 was $20,000 — spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s fighting for her tax planner’s attention; waiting in long lines to prepay her 2018 property taxes, in hopes of getting in one last, unlimited deduction before the new rules take effect — and then learning that those prepaid taxes might not actually be deductible, anyway.
Democrats in these states are now relishing the opportunity to play the party of low taxes on suburban, single-digit millionaires — while also seizing the chance to regionalize national political dynamics that favor Team Blue. Even as the Congressional GOP has grown steadily more distasteful to the average resident of Massachusetts, Maryland, and Vermont, Republicans have managed to win governor’s races in those states by localizing them. But with their tax legislation, Republicans found a way to draw a bright line between federal and state-level policymaking. New York governor Andrew Cuomo has responded by painting the GOP as the state’s enemy in an “economic civil war.” Before SALT was capped, the Empire State already sent the federal government more tax revenue than it recouped in spending, but now those red-staters are looking to bleed New York dry — with the help of traitorous New York Republicans!
“In a funny way, Cuomo’s been handed a political gift here,” Larry Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University on Long Island, told Politico this week. “Putting the state on war footing, invoking the language of conflict, is a brilliant political strategy.”
Cuomo, New Jersey governor-elect Phil Murphy, and California Senate President Kevin de León are all pushing plans to preserve the SALT deduction in full, by exploiting various loopholes in federal law.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party has yet to find a single 2018 candidate for any of New York’s statewide offices. Two potential challengers to Cuomo backed out this week. Kirsten Gillibrand remains, for the moment, unopposed. And there still isn’t any declared Republican candidate for state attorney general or comptroller.
Given the national mood (Democrats currently lead the 2018 generic congressional ballot by double digits), and the strength of the state’s Democratic incumbents, the GOP has little chance of winning a statewide race in New York this fall, whether they run solid candidates or not. But in statewide races, winning isn’t (always) everything: When a party fails to mount competent candidates for long-shot gubernatorial and Senate races, it can doom more competitive candidates down-ballot. Without statewide standard-bearers investing money and volunteers into turning out Republican voters next fall, the GOP’s New York House delegation could be done for.
And their colleagues in California could end up in a similar predicament: It’s entirely possible that two Democratic gubernatorial candidates could emerge from the state’s “jungle” (multiparty) primary.
For the moment, it looks like Republicans will be able to avert a total collapse in deep-blue states: The GOP governors of Maryland and Massachusetts, Larry Hogan and Charlie Baker, both used the tax bill as an opportunity to loudly distinguish themselves from the national Republican Party — and both appear poised to win reelection in November.