Republican magical thinking

Love James Surowiecki’s latest column on the matter:

Not surprisingly, the most extreme [of Republican tax plans] plan is Donald Trump’s. He would slash taxes across the board, reducing revenues by nine and a half trillion dollars over the next decade, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Yet he has also promised to balance the budget, protect Social Security and Medicare, and not cut services. How? Well, he says he’ll get rid of “waste and fraud and abuse,” and abolish the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. And he thinks that the tax cuts would spur an economic boom, so that revenues will actually increase.

This is pure fantasy. Those spending cuts would save just a tiny fraction of what he claims, and the revenue projections have no basis in reality. Yet, unrealistic as Trump’s ideas are, they differ from those of his chief opponents only in degree, not in kind…

So talking about spending cuts is risky: it’s safer to emphasize just the tax-cut part of your message. Still, we’ve now had thirty-five years of Republican candidates promising tax cuts, spending discipline, and balanced budgets, without ever delivering. Why haven’t voters woken up to this?

For one thing, decades of rhetoric about waste in Washington—one of Reagan’s favorite talking points—have skewed voter perceptions. “People think that there are a lot of ways to end fraud that would help balance the budget,” Nyhan says. Forty-nine per cent of those surveyed in a 2013 Fox News poll agreed that cutting “waste and fraud” could eliminate the national debt. In addition, voters have a poor sense of how government money is spent. When Trump says that he wants to close the Department of Education and the E.P.A., it might sound like a big saving. Yet their combined budgets amount to a small fraction of his proposed tax cut. Likewise with foreign aid: polls show that Americans think as much as a quarter of the federal budget goes to other countries, when it’s actually less than one per cent of total spending…

The empirical evidence is by now unequivocal that, with tax rates at U.S. levels, this doesn’t work; cutting tax rates simply leads to lower tax revenues, which is why, in the wake of the Reagan tax cuts, tax revenues as a share of G.D.P. fell. Yet for thirty-five years, through the Contract with America and the Bush Administration’s $1.6-trillion tax cut, the message has remained essentially the same: lower taxes, higher tax revenues. This message has been fact-checked and refuted over and over again, but, once something becomes an article of political faith, it’s difficult to dislodge. Indeed, Nyhan and the political scientist Jason Reifler carried out a study demonstrating that attempts to set the record straight can even reinforce misperceptions: self-described conservatives were shown evidence that the Bush tax cuts had lowered over-all revenues, but, Nyhan told me, “the information actually made them more likely to believe that the tax cuts had increased revenue.” …

Voters didn’t come up with these misperceptions on their own. “The ideas spread because politicians and pundits told people they were true,” Nyhan says. “And once misperceptions are out there they’re very difficult to overcome.” In proffering a tax plan that seems self-evidently absurd, Trump is merely building on the foundation that Republican predecessors laid down and, as is his wont, pushing their ideas further than anyone thought they could go.

I’m sure there are issues where Democrats take advantage of voter ignorance to make proposals that simply don’t fly in reality.  But I’m also quite sure these issues do not ignore reality to nearly the same degree nor form nearly the same central component of Democratic politics.

Trump’s path ahead

First, I have to say that I’m quite convinced that anybody who thinks Trump losing Ohio (and it’s 66 delegates) to Kasich was bad for Trump is utterly clueless and should be ignored on matters of election discussions.  Though it is entirely possible, Trump ends up short of a majority of delegates, I still think that is the most likely outcome by a good margin.  Especially since Kasich has a reason to stay in the race.  Nate Cohn spins this all out quite nicely:

Mr. Trump’s loss in Ohio may have cost him a lot of delegates, but it may nonetheless help him from this point onward by assuring a true three-way race. Mr. Kasich will almost certainly stay in the race, which will help split the anti-Trump vote, especially in the blue states that predominate in the second half of the primary season.

The results in Illinois — and Michigan last week — hint at how Ted Cruz’s blue-state weakness and Mr. Kasich’s strength might help Mr. Trump amass a majority of delegates.

Mr. Trump won Michigan and Illinois by wide margins, with less than 40 percent of the vote, since Mr. Kasich and Mr. Cruz neatly split the preponderance of the non-Trump voters.

Under the delegate allocation systems that will become increasingly common over the second half of the primary season, Mr. Trump would win lopsided delegate tallies if he prevailed by anything like the margins he carried in Illinois and Michigan. Mr. Trump could easily collect nearly all of the delegates in Illinois…

The problem for Mr. Cruz — and the good news for Mr. Trump — is that there are far fewer states like North Carolina and Missouri from this point on. The contest now turns to the blue states, where Mr. Kasich and Mr. Cruz will more equitably split the vote. Mr. Trump is often fairly strong there himself — as the results in Massachusetts suggest.

The combination of Mr. Trump’s blue-state strength, of the more evenly divided opposition in the North and of delegate rules that increasingly favor winners makes it easy to imagine how Mr. Trump could amass an outright majority of delegates.


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