What Congressional Republicans are Getting Wrong

When John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960, he won the majority of white voters who didn’t have a college degree. But he lost white college graduates by a two-to-one margin. The numbers were almost exactly reversed for Joe Biden. While winning white college graduates, he lost white voters without a degree by a two-to-one margin, according to an analysis in the New York Times

This is a trend that has been underway for quite some time.

Just 27 percent of Mr. Biden’s supporters in 2020 were white voters without a college degree, according to Pew Research. That’s down from nearly 60 percent of Bill Clinton supporters 28 years earlier.

Nonwhite voters are beginning to show a similar trend. Donald Trump, for example, scored large gains among voters of color, especially Latinos. The gains seem to be greatest among those without college degrees.

Yet, despite this rather radical shift in voting patterns, there is scant evidence that Republican candidates are taking advantage of it. The typical campaign rhetoric of the GOP today sounds a lot like it did three decades ago.

A Better Republicans Story

How could things be different? To begin with, Republicans need to change how they talk about issues.

The message from their Democratic opponents, along with the mainstream media and left-of-center commentators has been consistent: the only thing Republicans want to do is cut taxes for the rich. 

The GOP’s traditional response has been right out of the Ronald Reagan playbook: Low taxes are good for the economy; they promote economic growth; and a rising tide lifts all boats. 

All that is true, but the GOP is missing a much stronger argument, with more appeal to a new group of younger voters. 

Far from lowering the tax burden for the rich, Republican tax legislation has done the reverse. The U.S. has the most progressive tax system among all developed countries! That is, we take more from the rich (relative to other taxpayers) than any other country. 

Going all the way back the Reagan administration, every time Republicans passed a tax bill, they exempted more and more people from the income tax. As a result, more than half of the population doesn’t pay any income tax at all.

Every Republican tax bill, including the 2017 tax cuts under President Trump, has shifted more of the burden of taxation to higher-income taxpayers, making the tax system more progressive than it was before. Had the Democratic opponents of these measures had their way, the rich would be paying less, and the rest of the population would be paying more, than they do today.

Democratic Hypocrisy

Republicans also do a poor job of pointing out Democratic hypocrisy. Last year Democrats talked about their desire to extend the child tax credit, expand Medicaid, and allow low-income families who can’t afford their employer’s health plan to get subsidized insurance in the (Obamacare) exchanges.

But when it came time to legislate, they did none of those things. Instead, they did something they rarely ever talked about. Their Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) extended tax subsidies for health insurance for households who make hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When they are not accusing Republicans of favoring tax cuts for the rich, the other left-wing bromide is the Democrats’ claim that the GOP wants to dismantle the social safety net.

The Republican Safety Net

In fact, the most important safety net we have – one that gives virtually everyone a ticket out of poverty if they are willing to work – is a Republican creation: the Earned Income Tax Credit

Introduced in 1975, this credit was based on the idea of a negative income tax, proposed by Milton Friedman. Closely related is the child tax credit, created by a Republican Congress in 1997. 

Because of these two measures, by 2018 it was virtually impossible for a working mother to be poor (in terms of cash income), even if she earned only the minimum wage! An example: In 2018, the poverty threshold for a single parent with two children was $20,780. A working mother who received the minimum wage would also receive an Earned Income Tax Credit of $5,728 and Child Tax Credits of $4,000. Her total income: $24,808 or $4,028 above the poverty level.

Under the Democrats’ continuing “War on Poverty,” health care money goes to doctors and hospitals; housing money goes to landlords and developers; food stamp money goes to agribusiness; education money goes to school bureaucracies, etc.

By contrast, every refundable tax credit dollar goes directly to a low-income family.

Republicans have a powerful story to tell. It’s time for them to tell it.

Note: This post is based on an editorial in the Washington Examiner.

John Goodman

1 Comment

  1. Excellent advice, John!


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