Tax cuts were Republicans' not-so-secret weapon to stopping Democrats in the midterms. So far it doesn't seem to be working.
Republicans are terrified by Democratic voter enthusiasm against Trump and the GOP Congress. One of the big reasons Republicans were so desperate to pass their tax-scam giveaway to billionaires and corporations last year was they hoped workers would credit them for temporary take-home pay increases and decide keeping them in power was fine.
But this strategy seems to be failing in places where Republicans need it to work most.
Journalists from Reuters went to Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District, where voters face a special election in March between Democratic Marine veteran Conor Lamb and GOP state Rep. Rick Saccone, and found that "most acknowledged they would keep more of what they earned. But that did not necessarily translate into support for the legislation or for Saccone."
In fact, Reuters found, several GOP voters believed the tax bill was theater, or worse.
One Republican in Upper St. Clair, Bill Hartman, told Reuters he was voting for Democrat Conor Lamb even though his own taxes were going down, and that the bill "was meant to show (the GOP) did something. But it was just to help the wealthy." And one local Trump supporter, George Smith, put it even more succinctly: "It’s almost like being thrown a bone."
The GOP should be terrified by these remarks from voters, because this special election in the suburbs of Pittsburgh is already way tighter than it should be. This district, which was vacated when Rep. Tim Murphy resigned in disgrace when it was revealed he urged his mistress to have an abortion, is extremely conservative. Trump carried it by 20 points. As polls showed the race tightening, Trump frantically rushed to Pennsylvania to campaign for Saccone. But neither his involvement nor the tax scam seems to have done anything, as polls have gotten tighter since then.
Voters' tepid reaction to GOP tax policy in this special election echoes public sentiment nationwide.
The most recent poll from Reuters/Ipsos finds that, nationally, Americans believe the tax cuts help the rich and corporations over the middle class by a margin of 58 to 13. The poll also found only 2 percent of Americans report a pay increase from the law, and just a quarter of respondents say it will make them more likely to vote for Republicans, versus a third who say it makes them more likely to vote for Democrats.
While Republicans have fought to improve their messaging on taxes, their attempts are not persuasive. A boast from House Speaker Paul Ryan about a Pennsylvania school secretary who earned an extra $1.50 a week in take-home pay sparked widespread ridicule and a flurry of donations to his own Democratic opponent.
The GOP should not be so quick to hang its electoral hopes on a tax bill the public so clearly still mistrusts. As voters compare their paychecks, the mileage Republicans can get from tax cuts for billionaires in blue-collar suburbia is proving limited.