On Wednesday, Jeb! Bush will unveil his tax plan during a policy speech in Raleigh, N.C. Based on the details leaking out ahead of time, and with apologies to “South Park,” we can already discern the plan’s outlines:
1) Cut taxes
2) Close loopholes
Okay, it’s probably not that bad. No wait. Based on this Washington Post report from Robert Costa and Ed O’Keefe, we knew it would probably be that bad. (As this piece went to press, Bush began rolling out his proposals, writing in the Wall Street Journal that he'd cut taxes for individuals and corporations while removing some deductions enjoyed by business and the wealthy.)
Costa and O’Keefe report that Bush spent Tuesday morning meeting with three Republican economists in the offices of Woody Johnson, the candidate’s national finance chairman and owner of the New York Jets. Which should be a red flag right there. Do we really want a president who puts in charge of his money a man who has paid both Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith to be franchise quarterbacks?
Nonetheless, Bush reportedly met with well-known supply-side advocates Steve Forbes, Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore to seek their blessing on his attempt to sell the public on the latest GOP iteration of a gold-plated Buddha. Outside of being the scion of the family that runs its eponymous magazine, Forbes is probably most famous for his terrible presidential campaigns in 1996 and 2000, during which he called for replacing the national income tax with a flat tax of 17 percent on all personal and corporate income. Such a tax, in addition to being hugely regressive, would have blown a hole the size of several African nations in America’s budget.
The flat tax still occasionally gets trotted out as a policy proposal by Republicans. If you need evidence of how terrible an idea it is, just note that Rand Paul thinks it’s a good one.
As for the other two, Stephen Moore helped found the Club for Growth and has spent much of his career working for both the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, two pillars of support for free-market, supply-side balderdash. Moore made news last year for writing an editorial column so free of facts that newspapers that ran it later retracted it and swore they would never print anything by him again.
Larry Kudlow is mostly famous for being Larry Kudlow, in which capacity he spent 2007 and 2008 denying there was a recession coming almost up to the moment when Bear Stearns employees started toting boxes of their belongings out of their former offices. Before that, in 2003 he made the case that the U.S. should invade Iraq because the stock market needed the kind of goosing that could only be achieved by the U.S.’s political leaders showing decisiveness in the global War on Terror. Why he is still allowed out in polite society is a mystery for the ages.
Nevertheless, because Republican powerbrokers seem to only fail upward (see Brown, Michael), these are the Three Wise Men, along with the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, in front of whom Bush chose to appear on bended knee to unveil his tax plan, about which we can now safely assume a few things.
Bush calls for lowering marginal tax rates on both individuals and businesses while closing those fabled loopholes that Republicans always say they will eliminate. He promises that his plan will spur investment and small businesses, which will in turn boost the economy’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth to his stated goal of 4 percent annually, a number so fantastical it might as well be written in pixie dust.
In fact, the last time we had a president with an economic plan based on lower tax rates, the GDP averaged just slightly over 2 percent growth before cratering in the Great Recession. Bush should talk to that guy about his plan, I’m pretty sure he has his phone number.
And we haven’t even talked about the increase in the deficit and national debt that always seem to accompany supply-side economic plans. Which one would think is important for a party whose base suddenly became very, very concerned with these two numbers on January 20, 2009, and has barely stopped complaining about it ever since.
This is all in contrast to the tax plan, such as it is, of frontrunner Donald Trump, who has voiced a willingness to break with decades of GOP orthodoxy on supply-side economics by actually raising taxes on the wealthy. Taking on what he called “the hedge-fund guys who get lucky” has not hurt Trump’s poll numbers, even as it has freaked out the GOP’s moneyed establishment types from the banking and finance industries. If anything, he has only gotten more popular.
In this environment, Jeb Bush now unveils a tax plan so out of step with the GOP electorate that his polling numbers will likely barely move, no matter how much he nods in the direction of stopping “crony capitalism” at the same time. Why, with his campaign floundering, would he do this? There are probably multiple reasons, the simplest one being that Bush is a lackluster candidate who lacks the nimbleness to react to the raging, general anger of his party’s base, in the face of which his privileged and patrician mien is wholly out of place.
Beyond that, Bush’s tax plan is yet another data point in the larger issue of just how much the GOP has lost control of its primary process. In every election going back to 1980, the establishment could pretend a plan that lowers taxes on the wealthy would be a boon to everyone, and the suckers who have been voting Republican since then would cheer and go along with it while sliming any opposition as freedom-hating communists. This year, while it might be too much to say the base has caught on to the scam, it is at least willing to entertain someone who is calling it that. Jeb Bush and his allies in the GOP establishment have been caught completely flat-footed by this, and are showing that they have no answers at all.