Republicans face disaster in the 2018 races for the U.S. House of Representatives. Loss of control to the Democrats is a given. And the chances of the Democrats gaining control of the United States Senate increase every day.
The reason for these prospects is the growing political toxicity of Donald Trump. This stems from three basic factors: 1) the repulsiveness of his bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic, and utterly mendacious character; 2) his abuses of power, particularly his attempts to obstruct justice in the firing of Jim Comey as FBI director; and 3) his appalling incompetence in foreign policy, resulting in the United States being looked upon internationally at best with disdain and at worst, as a universal laughingstock.
Yet the Democrats could forfeit these advantages if they make the 2018 elections a referendum on the Trump tax package.
I, for one, oppose the package for three reasons pertaining particularly to New Jersey 1) Its highly detrimental effect on the real estate market in New Jersey, due to the reduction in property values it will cause 2) its adverse impact on New Jersey families who have not yet reached the age of senior citizenship and currently itemize deductions, particularly mortgage interest, state taxes, and local property taxes; 3) the high likelihood that the corporate tax reductions will not generate growth or employee salary increases but instead will increase corporate retained earnings and stock buybacks while contributing substantially to the federal debt and deficit, paralyzing economic growth in the long run.
Yet the political impact of the Trump tax cut is mixed. Given the economic demographic profiles of their districts, had Jersey Congressmen Rodney Frelinghuysen, Leonard Lance, and Chris Smith voted for the Trump tax package, their reelection prospects would have been doomed.
Yet in his New Jersey Third Congressional District, Congressman Tom MacArthur’s reelection chances have actually been substantially enhanced by his outspoken advocacy of the Trump tax package. Contrary to popular belief, it must be said that on the whole, this new legislation is highly beneficial to senior citizens, who are perhaps the most significant demographic in the Third. Ocean County, the residence of approximately 45% of the district’s voters, has the second largest population of senior citizens of any county in New Jersey. MacArthur carried the vast majority of senior citizens in his district in the elections of 2014 and 2016. His support of the Trump tax package guarantees that he will do even better with this constituency in the election of 2018.
In fact, the positive effects of the Trump tax package on senior citizens has been a widely overlooked story. Even opponents of the legislation, including confirmed NeverTrump Republicans like me, must admit this.
The vast majority of senior citizen taxpayers, particularly in MacArthur’s district will find that the legislation’s doubled standard deduction plus its extra standard deduction for seniors amounts to more than any itemized deductions and exemptions they could have previously claimed, particularly if their mortgage has been paid off so they don’t have that interest deduction any longer. They also will not be negatively impacted whatsoever by the legislation’s elimination of personal exemptions, since in virtually all cases, their children are adults who cannot be claimed as dependents.
The combination of the enhanced standard deduction, together with the legislation’s rate decreases, will result in income tax reductions for the vast majority of MacArthur’s senior citizen constituents, often in the low thousands of dollars. MacArthur’s Democrat opponent in the November, 2018 election, whoever that may be, will doubtless disparage the tax reductions to senior citizens as being insubstantial in dollar terms compared to reductions under the Trump tax package for the wealthy. This “class warfare” tactic backfired against the Democrats in their campaigns against the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s, and it will backfire in 2018. A senior citizen who is receiving a tax reduction of $2,000 will not care at all that a wealthy taxpayer is receiving a tax reduction of $200,000. By and large, Americans are not envious people.
It is conventional wisdom to state that MacArthur’s support for the Trump tax package will fatally damage the prospects for any statewide electoral aspirations he may have. Perhaps, but one should note that his advocacy of the legislation enables him to proclaim himself as a tribune for senior citizens residing throughout New Jersey. He could enhance his senior citizen tribune status by proposing further tax code changes to benefit them, such as the elimination of the self-employment tax for taxpayers over 65. This tax constitutes a major disincentive for retirees who wish to continue to work part-time or full time. Its elimination would actually be both economically and revenue beneficial.
There is one ominous political situation, however, that MacArthur may face. It is very possible that House Speaker Paul Ryan and his fellow Republican House leaders may in 2018 seek to pay for the Trump tax cuts by reductions in Social Security and Medicare benefits. MacArthur will have to vigorously oppose such reductions. Otherwise, both his House reelection prospects and his statewide electoral aspirations will be destroyed.
I must confess that despite my vigorous disagreement with Tom MacArthur when it comes to Donald Trump, I do like and respect him. Tom is a profoundly decent person who had the courage to face in a public forum constituents opposing his proposed health care legislative changes. Most significantly for me, Tom MacArthur has not, at least thus far, engaged in the scurrilous McCarthyite attacks of other Trump supporters against the unimpeachable character, competency, and integrity of independent counsel Robert Mueller.
Under the guidance of his consultant, Chris Russell, New Jersey’s top Republican strategist, I fully expect Tom MacArthur to have a most effective and efficient reelection campaign in 2018. Despite the electoral tsunami that will give the Democrats control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 elections, Tom MacArthur will win reelection and continue to represent the citizens of New Jersey’s Third Congressional District.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman