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THE WEEK: How Trump Abandoned Populism

Trump on Taxes
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Scott Galupo writes in THE WEEK that the tax reform legislation passed by congress doesn’t fulfill Trump’s campaign promises to give breaks to the working and middle class by clamping down on the wealthy and the big banks:

Conservatives inclined to cheer major tax-cut legislation even if it’s signed by a president they don’t particularly care for are frustrated by its unpopularity. They blame the media and Democrats for torquing up class warfare. In effect, they ask, don’t you know you’ll get a tax cut, too?!

Here is an alternative explanation: Working- and middle-class voters don’t much care that they might get a (temporary) tax cut. The problem is, when they hear Republicans touting the magic of cuts, they smell a rat. They’ve been hearing the same rhetoric for 40 years, and they know the fix is in. They suspect that the wealthiest Americans stand to gain the most — and they would be right.

It didn’t have to be this way.

In fact, Donald Trump, the candidate, promised the country a different way, a different kind of Republicanism; he promised a kind of radical-center populism. Candidate Trump entertained the idea of raising taxes on the wealthy, including himself. As late as this past September, he signaled a commitment to eliminating the carried-interest loophole for hedge fund and private equity managers. As late as this past March, there was still talk of breaking up the big banks and reinstating Glass-Steagall legislation. He says he still wants an infrastructure bill — but the deficits caused by these tax cuts (estimates vary from $500 billion to $1 trillion over the next 10 years, depending on how much growth they stimulate and, conversely, how much easier it becomes to game the tax code) will make it hard to find money for new spending.

President Trump could’ve turned Washington, D.C., on its head. The conventional wisdom about the grand bargain between Trump and the Republican establishment is that they will tolerate his antics and flagrant corruption in exchange for his signing their agenda into law. But Trump could’ve struck an entirely different bargain than the one he’s wedded to now — the one that has him and his congressional allies both mired in approval ratings that are astonishingly low given economic conditions.

Read the rest of the story here.

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