Donald Trump has spent weeks talking like a populist, promising to make the rich pay their fair share and attacking his opponents as puppets of the party’s wealthy donor base. Some of us concluded Trump was running to the left of the Establishment on taxes. Now Trump has released his “plan” to “reform” taxes, and it’s clear this conclusion was totally wrong.
Trump’s proposal is extremely similar to all the other Republican plans. He would cut the top tax rate to 25 percent, even lower than the 28 percent rate proposed by Jeb Bush. While Trump would not eliminate taxes on investment income, as Marco Rubio proposes, he likewise plans to eliminate the estate tax, which currently applies only to inheritances over $10 million.* Trump says he will pay for all this by eliminating “loopholes,” but fails to identify these loopholes. Even if he cleaned out every deduction in the tax code, there is not enough revenue to make up for the enormous tax cuts he would supply to the rich.
Who’d have guessed — the rich Republican who inherited an enormous real-estate empire from his father wants to cut taxes for rich people in general and wealthy heirs in particular! Trump seems to have reached the same conclusion as all of his opponents: Actually running on a populist tax plan in a Republican primary has the benefit of appealing to a popular position, but the cost of making Republican power brokers apoplectic, whereas merely pretending to have a populist plan has most of the same benefits and none of the costs. In retrospect, taking Trump’s rhetoric at face value was an extremely terrible idea, and we should feel bad.
* An earlier version of this post stated the estate tax would be applied to inheritances over $10 million a year.