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Can’t Sell To A Republican Base Through Liberal Rhetoric

Does the GOP have a marketing problem? Would they be more successful leading the charge with talking points such as “tax simplification reduces big government?” Are they having trouble selling a traditional conservative tax plan to a nationalist and populist executive administration? Besides the sexual harassment allegations, should Conyers’ mental state force him to resign? Associate Editor for Commentary Magazine, Noah Rothman joins Dan and Amy to discuss.

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Proft: Good morning, Dan and Amy. Republicans...they have a bit of a marketing problem with respect to moving tax reform, at least with some of the recalcitrant Republican senators. We got a good email from Bill the Accountant, to simplify this for us, as accountants are wont to do. Three points that Republicans should be selling, forgetting playing the winners and losers game, you know the $50,000 household vs the $100,000 vs the $500,000 vs the 1.5 million, don’t play that game. Instead, he argues three things. Point out that 80% of the DC swamp, and all of the consultant lobbyist class, related to the tax code. Tax simplification reduces big government, selling point one. Corporate tax rate reduction and change to a territorial system increases U.S. global business competitive....competitiveness. 3% growth is needed to grow out of the debt burden, at least. But it certainly pays for...quote-unquote it pays for...what has been proposed in both House and the Senate, so it does 3% GDP growth. And point three...current...complex tax system makes us all government dependent, must simplify to make voters think tax subsidies...the carve-outs and loopholes...hide real cost of things like health-care. So arguing in part the health expense deduction that’s removed from the House plan...it’s included in the Senate plan. I like that, I think that’s right, and particularly the first point. 80% of the professional political class in DC gravitates around the tax code. That’s where the goodies are, the carve-outs and the special deals. Tax simplification reduces big government. I like that, I think that’s a good starting point. And we’ll see if our friend Noah Rothman likes it, from a marketing perspective, as well as we’ll discuss the substance of the competing plans. Noah Rothman, he is associate editor for Commentary Magazine, Noah thanks so much for joining us, appreciate it. Rothman: My pleasure, thank you for having me. Proft: So, what about that? Is our friend Bill the Accountant right, that the GOP has a bit of a marketing program...marketing problem, and they should stop playing the “Here’s who wins, and here’s who loses, at certain income levels, certain family profiles”, and focus on sort of First Principles like “Tax Simplification reducing Big Government”? Rothman: Yeah, I like all of that. And I think a lot of it has to do, with the exception of his third point, points 1 and 2 have everything to do with the corporate tax code reform, which is in this bill. And the individual rates are largely window dressing for what is essentially a corporate tax code reform plan. And it accomplishes just about everything that your...emailer discussed. And I don’t hear Republicans talking very much if at all about the corporate tax rates, they said last week, maybe it’s changed since Thanksgiving, I haven’t really been paying attention to the news. But as of Wednesday, the only people really making the case for the corporate tax code reform plan were in the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, and they were doing so unapologetically, and compellingly. But I don’t hear Republicans making that case, I hear them talking about individual rates, and households, and families, and all that stuff is really kind of minor compared to what they’re trying to achieve, which is to reform the tax code, which even Democrats will get on board with if you pin them up against the wall and say “are you in favor of reducing these rates on repatriated capital and making it easier for intellectual property to stay in the United States, not housing capital overseas”...all this stuff is stuff that achieves bipartisan consensus, and I’m not sure why Republicans aren’t really doing that. Maybe it’s sexier to talk about individual rates, I don’t know? Maybe they’re afraid that their image as a Corporatist Party is going to damage this thing? Whatever it is, it strikes me as flawed. Jacobson: Well, they’re supposed to...or they’re scheduled to...leave for the holidays on December 15th, that’s when the break begins. But do you think this is going to be completed and be a done deal before then? Rothman: Oh, man. That’s a REALLY tight window. I mean, I’ve been bearish on the prospects of major legislation passing in Congress in...in 2018, since April, when Paul Ryan got off his very ambitious schedule that he set for himself. And the first hurdle, when they failed to pass the Affordable Care Act, was supposed to free up a whole lot of capital to help pay for tax code reform, which was supposed to free up more capital to reform the entitlement programs. All these things were supposed to happen sequentially. And when they missed that first part of the sequence, everything was off. So, I’m very skeptical that we can...they’re going to have to go conference, at least I think, on the Senate Bill, gonna be different than a House Bill, unless the House passes exactly what the Senate passes, and that seems like it’s going to be a tough crunch. So 15 working days is not a lot of working days. Proft: I wonder, if in this era of negative partisanship, meaning “I hate both sides but I hate your side MORE”, and that’s what animates a lot of people when it comes to voting or just kind of their disposition, if Republicans would be better suited to argue who gets PUNISHED under this as opposed to who...as opposed to what the benefits are. Rather than focusing on the $50,000 household that can fill out their return on a postcard and seize $1,000 in savings, focus on the lobbyists and the senior bank execs and the tech gazillionaires and the corporate lawyers, the working rich who, particularly under the House plan, sort of take a bath on this plan, and if that might be a way to make this more popular. Rothman: Yeah. “The Working Rich”, by the way, depends on where you are. Part of the reason why people are frustrated with the House plan is because it would alleviate your ability in certain high property tax areas to write off that property tax. Proft: Right. Rothman: And so people were in the Conservative Movement, that you know, “Well, well you chose to live in Connecticut, or New Jersey, or California, so you get what you deserve. These are Blue states, if you don’t like it so much, MOVE.” And that’s negative partisanship like you say. It’s a moral corruption, because it’s not about good policy, it’s about sticking it to somebody you don’t even know. That used to be exclusive to the liberal left, it was sort of a retributive, vicious, and morally corrupt influence on American politics, and it was one that Conservatives had transcended. That is no longer the case in a lot of ways, and it’s a change that I very much lament. It’s identity politics, and identity politics is corruption. Proft: Well, so...right. And so, if some are falling prey to identity politics, it seems like...there’s a piece in the Wall Street Journal by Theresa May, that the alternative, and perhaps the better option, maybe you would argue, is don’t fall for the left’s equality gambit, which is just their newspeak synonym for redistribution, get back to fundamentals like “We want to promote tax policy that is pro-growth, pro-upward mobility, and present a real contrast of policy visions, rather than saying “People you hate are going to get stuck by this plan and we’re going to take care of people that put Trump over the top.” Rothman: You know, maybe you put it best there, in a way that perhaps it’s become impossible for Republicans to sell Republican policy through liberal rhetoric. You can’t really appeal to a Republican base by appealing to negative partisanship, and anti-identity politics in the form of sticking it to the guys on the coast who make $100,000, where $100,000 really doesn’t get you that far. I don’t know...I don’t know if they CAN make this shift, because of where the Party is at, it’s kind of in a Populist, Nationalist mode. And that is very much a negative appeal, it’s not the high-minded philosophy, it’s reactionary. And if we’re going to have a reactionary moment, then we’re going to have reactionary politics. But the tax code is being written by Conservatives in good standing who are policy wonks are were steeped in the ideology of the Reagan era, I mean...they’re not nationalist, they’re not populist! So they’re appealing to an Executive branch that’s led by a Nationalist and a Populist not to sell a very traditional conservative “first do no harm” tax code reform, and these two things are certainly coming into conflict. Jacobson: I wanted to switch gears and talk to you about Senator Al Franken and Congressman John Conyers. And the buzz is...well, they both want to stay, they’re both welcoming Ethics investigations. Do you think John Conyers should step down, as some have suggested? Rothman: Well not because of these allegations. He should step down because he’s mentally incompetent! Proft: *sputters* Jacobson: Oooh… Rothman: I mean, his faculties are not with him. This is an open secret. It’s not something that people have been unaware of. He is in the stages of what I could see as, without diagnosing it, dementia. And as a result, he should step down from Congress. It has nothing to do with these allegations. But I wouldn’t call for anybody’s job, I don’t call for anybody’s job. If they feel the pressure has mounted on them, if they feel it’s necessary to relieve their fellows of the burden of having to defend them...speaking specifically about Franken, then yes he should withdraw. That is not a decision for me to make. But at the same time, you can see what happened last...yesterday, with Minority Leader Pelosi, self-immolating on cable news… Proft: Yes… Rothman: ...resulting in a firestorm of controversy over a public relations event, that this is a very difficult issue for Democrats to navigate without stepping on a landmine and looking very hypocritical. Nancy Pelosi...could very well be the Speaker of the House in 14 months. It’s not hard to see that happening. Didn’t she...she essentially surrendered the moral high ground when it comes to sexual harassment. She did so yesterday, and I don’t think she can recover it! Proft: Yeah, well but I mean, the news that the Left is unbound by their own hypocrisy is...doesn’t come as a particular surprise. Rothman: Well, I don’t know if they’re going to get away with it like they used to. There’s a different...sense in the air, there’s sort of a little bit of less tolerance for that kind of behavior, particularly when we’re in the midst of this big episode of collective moralizing coming down, particularly on Republicans, as the party of Trump, as the party of Roy Moore, if they are going to maintain that position, they are going to have to maintain some intellectual consistency and the people who have tried to thread that needle, defending their own while attacking the Right, have had a lot of appropriam (?) heaped on them, and duly so. I welcome it, I think it’s very different and new, maybe it’ll...maybe it won’t be the case, maybe it won’t stay that way. But for now, it’s a very difficult environment for Democrats to navigate, as Pelosi’s experience yesterday demonstrates. Proft: Now, President Trump was asked to be Miss Universe, but he decided it was too much of a hassle, so he declined and deferred to Miss South Africa, who won, was crowned yesterday. Now, what do you make of this Time Magazine flap that the President has created and how do you view instances like this with the President? Rothman: Well, I can’t speak to the veracity of what he Tweeted, I have no insight on how Time does this “Person of the Year” thing...and I also don’t care. Proft: Right. Rothman: And I see that as something that, too few of us...we have no choice but to care about what the President says, and when there are cases like this when he wants to litigate his personal popularity and assaults on his dignity, as he perceives them, he loves that. I guess it’s something he really enjoys, seeing himself in the news, whether it’s positive or negative coverage, I just find it a distraction. And not in the...not in the “Don’t look at the Mueller Probe” kind of distraction, which is what the Left would say, but just a distraction from governance, which is something Democrats and Republicans are really trying to get to in Congress and it’s been...it’s proving very difficult. Proft: He is Noah Rothman, Associate Editor for Commentary Magazine. His latest piece, “Trump, CNN, and the Corruption of Conservatism”. Noah, thanks for joining us, appreciate it. Rothman: My pleasure, thank you.

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