the national interest

Trump Tells Senate Democrats He Had to Give the Rich Something

Nailed it! Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday, President Trump spoke by phone with a dozen Democratic senators, in a bid to win their support for his tax-cut plan. You might think his private arguments would be at least marginally more sophisticated than the crude lies he has told in public. You would be wrong.

According to Democrats who participated in the conversation, Trump argued that his plan actually is a big tax hike on rich people in general, and himself in particular. (“My accountant called me and said ‘You’re going to get killed in this bill,’” the president said, according to NBC.) Indeed, he insisted that the punishment to the rich would be so brutal he was forced to abolish the estate tax as a salve. “The deal is so bad for rich people, I had to throw in the estate tax just to give them something,” Trump said, per “multiple people in the room who heard the president on the phone,” reports the Washington Post.

This is a bizarre case to make, for several reasons. First, it is verifiably false. The Joint Committee on Taxation analyzed the effect of the Republican plan without the estate-tax repeal; it still gives rich people a tax cut. Second, Trump is inviting questions about his own tax returns, which he refuses to disclose in violation of a previously well-established decades-long norm. His spokespeople have dismissed any queries about Trump’s taxes as irrelevant to his job or policies, and now Trump is making them central to his case.

And third, there is the curious moral logic. Trump is arguing that a plan that forces rich people to pay more would be unfair and require giving them an offsetting break, just to be nice. Even if Senate Democrats could be duped into believing Trump’s false claims about the distributional effects of the plan, why does he think they would warm up to his reasoning? Heirs who inherit estates worth more than $11 million are compelling objects of sympathy whose needs outrank other potential uses of deficit spending? Did he somehow think he was briefing the Koch Brothers?

Had to Give the Rich Something, Trump Tells Senate Democrats