Republicans’ tax reform plan left Democrats in a messaging bind. Do they attempt to find common ground with their GOP foes knowing that the bill would be popular and would increase worker wages? Or do they maintain their #resistance theme and oppose Republican ideas at all cost in the hopes of not muddying their message.
Unsurprisingly, Democrats opted for the latter. For a while it seemed to work. Their relentless messaging blitz seemed to convince Americans that they shouldn’t believe their eyes and ears, which is to say that they should refuse to believe that they would benefit from Republicans’ plan.
But then they took it too far. When companies began to announce billions in bonuses for employees, dramatic increases to their minimum wages, and substantial investments in productivity-enhancing capital, Democrats panicked.
“In terms of the bonus that corporate America received versus the crumbs that they are giving to workers to kind of put the schmooze on – it’s so pathetic,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters in January. “I think it’s insignificant.”
Other Democrats immediately recognized the mistake.
“Language is important, and we have to be very careful that we don’t insult people by saying that the amount of money they get is crumbs,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said. “We cannot be seen as patricians.”
And yet others doubled down on Pelosi’s comments.
“[Y]eah, getting a nickel or dime is better than not. But if you look at who gets the bulk of the benefit, corporations, wealthy individuals, they got the whole loaf of bread and you got, yeah, crumbs,” Rep. Linda Sanchez, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters.
A nickel or dime? In what world is $1,000 the equivalent to pocket change? Unfortunately, the answer is simple: In a world in which Democrats feel the need to fudge the truth in order to win back Congress.
Fortunately, most voters don’t live in that world. As the truth has gradually revealed itself about tax reform, often in the form of raises or bonuses for Americans, public support for the bill has shot skyward. At the time of the bill’s passage just 37 percent of American approved of the plan, but the most recent polling finds that 51 percent of Americans now support the bill.
In some ways this was inevitable. A December poll found, incredibly, that just 17 percent of respondents believed they would pay less in taxes while 32 percent believed they’d pay more. In reality, according to the Tax Policy Center, about 80 percent of taxpayers will receive a tax cut this year averaging $2,100. The difference between expectation and reality shows how effective Democrats’ early messaging was. But when that message ran headlong into facts, borne out in bigger paychecks, approval was destined to go up.
And, as Marc Thiessen writes for the Washington Post, those numbers are likely to continue climbing:
[M]ore Americans are starting to discover that they are winners. Millions are starting to receive their Trump tax cuts as employers lower their tax withholdings, leaving more money in their paychecks. And the bill will become more popular as more people learn the good news. Even now, only one-third of Americans think they will see an income tax cut. Many voters are going to be pleasantly surprised when they discover their taxes are being reduced thanks to President Trump and Republican lawmakers. And that does not take into account the bonuses and raises that many Americans are receiving from their employers because of the corporate tax cuts — or the wage increases they will get from the economic growth that tax reform unleashes in the months and years ahead.
This has created tremendous problems for Democrats who were “caught flat-footed by the suddenly increasing popularity” of the plan. They are dealing with “widespread disagreements within the diverse 193-member caucus about what campaign message Democrats should rally around.” As of now, it’s unclear how they’ll solve it. After all, at its core this is not a messaging problem. It’s not as though they haven’t gotten their message about tax reform in front of voters, it’s just that it’s been disproven by real world effects, namely: Higher wages. Better benefits. Millions of Americans receiving bonuses. And consumer confidence rates that have jumped to a 17-year high.
Voters are finding out the truth about the positive impacts of tax reform. Democrats attempts to minimize or misconstrue those benefits are sure to backfire. They need a new strategy, rooted in a positive agenda, and fast.