Right after Republicans in
the U.S. Senate passed their income tax overhaul in December, delivering tax
cuts to businesses and most American taxpayers, Senate Republican leader Mitch
McConnell was buoyant.
Surrounded by jubilant
fellow Republicans, he told reporters, “If we can’t sell this to the American
people, we ought to go into another line of work.”
Four months later,
McConnell’s attempt at levity could prove prophetic.
The most vulnerable
Republican incumbents in the tightest congressional races in the November
elections are talking less and less about the tax cuts on Twitter and Facebook,
on their campaign and congressional websites and in digital ads, the vital
tools of a modern election campaign, a Reuters analysis of their online
All told, the number of tax
messages has fallen by 44 percent since January. For several congressmen in
tough reelection fights, Steve Knight in California, Jason Lewis in Minnesota, and
Don Bacon in Nebraska, messaging is down much more - as much as 72
Right after the tax law
passed, lawmakers piggybacked on a surge of corporate announcements of tax-cut
fueled bonuses to employees, wage hikes and job creation plans to tout the
benefits of the bill to voters.
As those corporate
announcements trailed off in March and April, so did Republican politicians’
messages about tax relief, the Reuters review found. With the exception of a
flurry of news releases on or around April 17, when federal tax returns were
due, few incumbents kept up the pace. The Reuters review did not capture
candidates’ email, direct mail or private conversations with donors or voters
or stump speeches.
Most of the 13 Republican
incumbents in the most competitive reelection bids, and their aides, declined
to answer Reuters’ questions on why they were communicating less online about
the tax cuts. But a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted from March 14 to 29 found that
just 3 percent of American adults were aware of receiving a material benefit
from the Republican legislation.
Ford O’Connell, a Republican
strategist, said that is why his party’s candidates need to energize voters by
talking about other issues, too, like restricting immigration and stopping
Democrats from taking control of the House of Representatives so that they
cannot impeach President Donald Trump.
Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for
the National Republican Congressional Committee, acknowledged there “has been a
downtick in what voters are hearing from members and businesses on the tax
reform front.” He said it was because lawmakers had moved on to other issues.
“Candidates and members need
to make sure that they stay focused on what is our signature achievement in
this Congress,” Hunt said.
Five of the 13 candidates
who did respond to Reuters said they do talk regularly to voters at events.
The Republican tax law
sharply cut the corporate tax rate, encouraged corporations to repatriate
overseas income at lower rates, and at least temporarily, cut taxes for the wealthy
and most other Americans. Many of the benefits to individuals won’t become
obvious until they file their tax returns in early 2019, and that is long after
the congressional elections.
The election cycle is still
in its early stage, so the volume of talk on the tax overhaul could always
increase. And even if politicians are reluctant to tout it, conservative
financial supporters are showing an eagerness to fill the gap. Billionaires Charles
and David Koch are spending $20 million to promote the benefits of the tax cuts
in battleground states with digital ads and even door-to-door canvassing.
Some polling results suggest
that taxes are not the burning issue for voters that Republicans hoped they
would be. A Quinnipiac
University poll released in March said only 8 percent of voters
thought taxes was the most important issue in deciding how to vote in the
congressional elections. It was fifth, behind healthcare, the economy, gun
policy and immigration.
It is also harder for
Republicans to talk about lower taxes in states with high local taxes like New
Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. That also happens to be where 10
of the 17 most competitive congressional races are.
Many taxpayers in those
states will pay more in federal taxes because the new law reduces the deduction
for state and local tax payments. About one in four Americans expect their
state and local income taxes to rise because of the Republican tax law, while
only 11 percent expect them to fall, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.
WHAT THEY DO SAY
Barbara Comstock, locked in
a tight race for reelection in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, says she
talks about the tax overhaul at campaign events.
The Reuters analysis shows
that though she mentioned the benefits of the tax cuts 36 times in January in
social media, she did so only 13 times in March and then 22 times in April. She
said in an interview that she is reacting to constituents, whose interests have
moved on to other issues.
Don Bacon, of Nebraska’s 2nd
district, sees economic growth, and the threats posed by North Korea and
Islamic State as the election-winning issues for Republicans. “Taxes will be
one of the pillars of our campaign, but more indirectly. In the end, it’s going
to be about an economy that’s growing.”
Republican Mike Coffman,
whose reelection prospects are rated a toss-up in his Denver-area congressional
district, has not been visible at all on taxes via social media. But his
campaign spokesman, Tyler Sandberg, said Coffman talks about tax cuts regularly
with supporters via email and with small business owners.
When they do talk about
taxes, Republican candidates prefer to talk about the tax law in the context of
how it is really a form of financial assistance to help families cope with
college tuition, buy new cars, make mortgage payments, or even pay for summer
Democrats, meanwhile, are
attacking the new tax law as a boon for corporations and the wealthy that will
add $1.5 trillion to the federal debt over the next decade.
They received some
unexpected help from Republican Senator Marco Rubio last week. Rubio, who is
not facing re-election this cycle, told the Economist magazine that benefits
are going to corporations instead of employees.
“They bought back shares, a
few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been
massively poured back into the American worker,” he said.
Despite that criticism, some
Republican incumbents are still making a determined effort to sell voters on
the merits of the new tax law.
Dean Heller, 2018’s most
vulnerable Republican senator, has been far and away the most aggressive on tax
messaging. He has sent out 380 messages in the first four months of the year,
or almost one-third of a total 1,287 messages.
But even his communications
have dropped by 44 percent since the end of January.
“Let me be very clear, our
campaign moving forward will be based on lower taxes and less regulation,”
Heller said in an interview. ”The trend you’ve seen in the first quarter
of this year, I assure you, is not going to be the trend over the next six
here for the original article from Reuters.