In May 2014, a broad collection of thinkers and politicians gathered in Washington to celebrate a new conservative “manifesto.” The document called for replacing stodgy old Reaganite economics with warmer, fuzzier handouts to the middle class. Donald Trump must have missed the memo.
The president formally opened the tax wars on Wednesday with his speech in Missouri challenging Congress to meet his principles for reform. The media almost uniformly applied to the speech its favorite (though misused) descriptor: “populist.” But the real news was that Mr. Trump wants to make Reagan-style tax reform great again.
The left saw this clearly, which explains its furious and frustrated reaction to the speech. “Trump’s New Tax Scam: Selling Plutocracy as Populism,” ran a headline in Vanity Fair, bemoaning that “Trickle-down is back, baby.” Democratic strategist Robert Shrum railed in a Politico piece that the “plutocrat” Mr. Trump was pitching a tax cut for “corporations and the top 1 percent” yet was getting away with a “perverted populism.” Trump voters had been “tricked into voting against themselves,” and now Mr. Trump was pulling a similar con with taxes.
Nonsense. Mr. Trump is selling pro-growth policies—something his party has forgotten how to do. And there’s nothing very “populist” about it, at least not by today’s political standards. The left has defined the tax debate for decades in terms of pure class warfare. Republicans have so often been cast as stooges for the rich that the GOP is scared to make the full-throated case for a freer and fairer tax system. It was precisely the right’s desire for a more “populist” tax policy that gave us the Reformicons and their manifesto for buying off the middle class.