On taxes, Republican leaders persuaded Trump to abandon his vow that the wealthy would not benefit. In fact, economic forecasters say they’ll benefit most, in large part through lower rates on businesses they own. As Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker said before backing the plan, lower corporate tax rates were the point to begin with.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has reverse-engineered the justification that it was designed for middle-class families. Polls show most voters don’t buy it.
The same gap between GOP leadership and rank-and-file hobbles the party on other economic issues. In 2016, Trump told beleaguered blue-collar whites their problems stemmed from governmental incompetence, lax immigration policies, and bad trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA — not irreversible economic trends such as technological change and mobility of global capital.
Republican leaders, who back continued trade expansion, don’t believe that. They want Trump to abandon his threat to leave NAFTA to avoid what Robert Zoellick, President George W. Bush’s former trade representative, warned would be “economic mayhem.”
These mismatched Republican views reflect how Trump’s crude populist messages twisted the 2016 electorate into a historically unprecedented shape. Most of his votes came from Americans without college degrees, the people most vulnerable to economic and cultural changes. Republicans playing key roles in politics and business come from the ranks of college-credentialed winners — just as most of Hillary Clinton’s voters did.
As advocates of smaller government, Republican leaders have mostly stood by while Trump erodes the executive branch administratively. The White House has failed to nominate anyone for 40 percent of top posts requiring Senate confirmation. GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona has expressed alarm over the number of U.S. diplomats who have left under pressure from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who himself is repeatedly undercut by the president.
Beyond his disdain for expertise, Trump has strong personal motivation to hobble the government he heads. He fired FBI Director James Comey over what he calls the Russia “witch hunt” probing the president’s 2016 campaign. He keeps it up even though special counsel Robert Mueller holds such a sterling reputation that Trump himself considered appointing Mueller to lead the FBI.
His party increasingly amplifies those attacks. As much as they disagree with rank-and-file Trump supporters, GOP leaders in government fear them.
Correction: This article was updated to reflect Sen. Bob Corker’s home state.