With the passage Wednesday of a landmark tax reform bill, President Donald Trump could well be on the verge of once again defying political experts and overturning conventional wisdom in 2018, just as he did in 2016.
When Trump signs the measure into law, it won’t just be about major tax cuts for individuals, families, corporations, and small businesses. The new law will also repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate and vastly expand oil production in Alaska, keeping gas prices down as the economy booms and freeing the country from dependence on foreign oil.
Such lofty achievements seemed out of reach for Trump and the Republican-led Congress just last summer, thanks to the embarrassing defeat of Republican Obamacare repeal efforts in the Senate. Yet Trump, the so-called bomb-thrower-in-chief, pressed on, resulting in an all-out assault on his efforts by Democrats, dissatisfied Republicans, and the liberal mainstream media.
Trump demanded progress from congressional Republicans, often bullying them on Twitter, and making year-end deadline demands. A tax cut by Christmas, he said. Trump, who despises the “swampy” way of doing things, ordered major progress on draining the D.C. swamp by Christmas.
He got it. Big time.
Trump and his sometimes lukewarm congressional allies — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — can now crow about a huge legislative feat, one that accomplishes many things.
The tax reform bill doesn’t just cut individual and business taxes. Tax reform and Obamacare repeal were the top two goals of Republicans in 2017. And opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy exploration and production eluded previous presidents and congresses for four decades.
Opening ANWR follows Trump’s approval earlier in the year of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, which will keep U.S. and Canadian energy prices low while further making the nation less dependent on OPEC and other foreign oil sources.
Wednesday’s triumph enhances Trump’s reputation as the disruptive leader who is keeping his promises and draining the Washington swamp. His tactics have always been disruptive, but now Washington’s GOP Establishment seems finally to be moving in his direction.
How did it happen? Trump and the Republicans were largely seen as on the ropes in the past few months. Off-year election losses for Republicans in New Jersey, Virginia, and especially Alabama boosted Democrat hopes of regaining control of one or both houses of Congress in November 2018.
Republican donors and activists also reportedly made their displeasure clear to Republican members of Congress for the next few months. The message was clear: Get something big done this year and work with Trump in doing so.
Add the constant battering of Trump by the mainstream news media and special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia-related investigation, and Trump’s approval ratings clocked in at the mid-30s by the beginning of December.
The low ratings prompted a flood of predictions of a 2018 Democratic “blue wave” election by many of the same political and media wizards who scoffed at Trump’s chances of beating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential contest.
“Tsunami alert,” tweeted Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report on Wednesday. Wasserman cited a bevy of polls showing Democrats ahead of Republicans, in the generic congressional ballot test, by at least 10 percent.
Wasserman noted one major problem for Democrats: “Only problem for Dems; election still 10+ months away.”
Wasserman’s comment came as Trump welcomed joyous Republicans to the White House to celebrate their tax reform victory. As with Trump’s defeat of Clinton, the tax reform success came in the face of polling showing majority opposition to the measure.
On the same day, AT&T announced a $1,000 bonus for each of its more than 200,000 employees, countering Democratic claims that corporate tax relief would not trickle down to employees. Fifth Third Bancorp said it would raise the minimum hourly wage for all employees to $15, and “distribute a one-time bonus of $1,000 for more than 13,500 employees.”
If those bonuses herald more economic expansion in 2018, the 2018 election may be as devastating as the 2016 results were for the political and media elites. It wouldn’t be the first time a healthy economy saved a party with control of the White House from a “wave” election.
Voters soured in 1998 over Republican attacks on President Bill Clinton. With the economy strong, voters saw no reason to give Republicans more seats in a Congress they already controlled. The House GOP actually lost five seats.
Similarly, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush appeared to face a blue wave in the 2002 midterm voting. But Republicans won big, buoyed by their anti-terrorism policy, and regained the Senate majority.
Now, the GOP’s retaining control of both congressional chambers next year seems more feasible.
Democrats appear to be nervous now that Trump has a major legislative victory to take into 2018. When asked by NBC News how GOP strategists think the tax reform win can mean keeping their congressional majorities, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) glibly responded, “Let them think that.”