Would President Donald Trump raise taxes on the rich or not?
That’s a bit of an open question at the moment due to stuff Mr. Trump said on news shows over the weekend. And tax hikes of any nature, of course, are anathema to the Republican Party. At least, they’ve been counter to GOP ideology for decades in the PT (Pre-Trump) era.
Here’s the background: On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, host Chuck Todd asked Trump whether the presumptive nominee’s tax plan is set in stone. During the primary season, Trump proposed massive across-the-board tax cuts.
In essence, Trump said “no.” He talked about his tax-plan priorities for negotiations, saying that the middle class needs to be protected, business needs to be protected, but the wealthy don’t.
“The rich [are] probably going to end up paying more,” Trump said.
Lots of people – OK, lots of Washington people – took this to mean he’d go along with taxes on the top 1 percent that are higher than they are now. “Trump Might Hike Taxes on Rich” headlines followed.
Monday, Trump is saying that is not what he meant. He insists the comment referred to the fact that he realizes big policies in Washington are negotiated between the parties and the White House and the legislative branch, and that he’d accept a tax rate for the rich higher than the one he’d proposed – but still lower than current policy.
“With this very low tax that I put in, the biggest of anybody, I may have to raise it a little bit from that point,” Trump told Maria Bartiromo Monday on Fox Business Network. “So, the media of course picks it up that Trump wants a tax increase. It’s just unbelievable.”
Hmm. OK, the original wording didn’t really seem that way, but it’s entirely possible Trump’s answer on “Meet the Press” was just imprecise. If that’s that case, he’s talking about his negotiation priorities as president, right? We’ve never written a book on the art of deals, but laying out what you’d take and what you wouldn’t in advance doesn’t seem like a great negotiation technique to us.
In politics you always hear top officials say something along the lines of “I’m not going to negotiate with myself” when they’re asked questions about what they do and don’t want from big deals. (A variation on this is the classic, “I don’t answer hypothetical questions.”) That didn’t happen in this case.
Perhaps more important for Trump, lots of conservatives are angry about the way he answered this question, however it’s interpreted. That’s because they’re suspicious of the presumptive nominee’s motives. Is he a closet liberal? He defends big entitlement programs, doesn’t talk much about gay marriage or other social issues, is against “bathroom laws” aimed at transgender people, and has a proudly non-interventionist America First foreign policy.
“On the GOP, Trump is A-OK with making America Blue Again, or at least making the GOP more like the Democrats,” writes Steve Berman at the right-leaning The Resurgent.
That’s going to be a problem for Trump going forward. All his statements are going to be examined, not just for how they differ from Democrats, but how they differ from Republican positions of the recent past. That will make it difficult to unify the party – if that’s his goal. So far, he’s indicating that his intra-party opponents need to make peace with him, not the other way round.
“I’m going to do what I have to do, I have millions of people that voted for me,” Trump said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.