President-elect Donald Trump criticized a cornerstone of House Republicans’ corporate-tax plan, which they had pitched as an alternative to his proposed import tariffs, creating another point of contention between the incoming president and congressional allies.Trump wants import tariffs. Congressional Republicans want to compromise with Trump by offering border adjustment. And wealthy backers of the GOP, including the Koch brothers, don't want either one:
The measure, known as border adjustment, would tax imports and exempt exports as part of a broader plan to encourage companies to locate jobs and production in the U.S. But Mr. Trump, in his first comments on the subject, called it “too complicated.”
“Anytime I hear border adjustment, I don’t love it,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Friday. “Because usually it means we’re going to get adjusted into a bad deal. That’s what happens.”
Retailers and oil refiners have lined up against the measure, warning it would drive up their tax bills and force them to raise prices because they rely so heavily on imported goods.It's tempting to see this as a major rift -- I'm quoting from The Wall Street Journal, which certainly does -- but really, the GOP isn't going to let this stand in the way of the main goals (giving massive tax and regulatory cuts to the rich; scapegoating non-whites, immigrants, and liberals for everything; using electoral law to stay in power forever). It may seem as if Congress's willingness to punish multinational corporations at all is putting a strain on GOP principles (if that's the right word for them), but I think Republicans in the Trump era are following the lead of Edward Conard:
Koch Industries Inc., a conglomerate run by billionaire brothers active in Republican politics, last month said the border-adjustment measure could have “devastating” long-term consequences for the economy and the American consumer.
At a private gathering of wealthy Republicans this June, a banker named Edward Conard made a radical proposal: To save capitalism from Donald Trump, American business leaders would need to abandon old allies and make an “odious” new deal with low-wage workers.This description, from a Ben Smith article published by BuzzFeed in September, was written when most people believed Trump would lose badly and take the GOP down with him. But it applies in a Trump presidency as well: Give Trump and his deplorables a bit of populist protectionism, inspire them to keep voting GOP, get huge tax cuts for the wealthy in return.
“If advocates of the free enterprise want to regain control of the Republican Party ... we need to find middle ground with these workers,” Conard. “The question is: How do we build a coalition with displaced workers like we did with the religious right after Roe vs. Wade, and which we used to lower the marginal tax rate from 70% to 28%?”
... [Conard's] solution was -- to the audience -- hair-raisingly radical in its simplicity.... His plan requires replacing the religious right in the Republican coalition with the new populists, and mollifying them with new restrictions on trade and immigration -- all in exchange for the holy grail of lower marginal tax rates.
The fact that Republicans in Congress are meeting Trump partway on protectionism shows that they understand the appeal of such a bargain. And the fact that Trump seems quite comfortable with the idea of massive tax and regulatory cuts suggests that this marriage will survive.
Joe Scarborough doesn't grasp this. Yesterday he was proclaiming Trump a non-Republican, and, arguing that Trump is going to be the death of the GOP and the two-party system, all with the general agreement of his panel. The right-wing blog Legal Insurrection has a partial transcript:
JON MEACHAM: Joe, what do you think about this? Jeremy [Peters, of the NYT] said [Trump] is not a conservative president. It’s true. He’s a Republican president. Is he going to be a Republican president or is he a president who used the Republican party as a vehicle to power?Elsewhere in the segment, as Crooks and Liars notes, Scarborough and Harold Ford agreed that Trump and his voters are really independents who are very Sanders-like. This is in response to a Sanders speech at a pro-Obamacare rally in Michigan:
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: We will find out.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: A transactional president.
MIKA: I think a little bit of both.
JOE: I think that actually he --
MIKA: Look at his cabinet.
JOE: He is, in a sense, and people will look back -- because I believe the parties -- we’ve talked about this a lot before. I think the 150-year duopoly is over, and I think people will look over the past ten years and see how power in the House has switched back and the Senate and the presidency switched every two years as the beginning of the end for the two parties. I think people are going to still look at George W. Bush as the last Republican president.
JOE: I think Donald Trump, by the end, will blow apart the Republican party and you may have Bernie Sanders doing the same. I mean, don’t you think so? I think actually, in a sense, this guy is the first independent president.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Harold, these poor Republicans in the House are getting pulled by one side and Bernie Sanders talking that if Republicans think they'll be able to do this, they have another thing coming. Now Donald trump is also warning the Republicans in the house, you better follow me. You better provide universal health insurance for everybody or else. I think this is going to -- this is shaping up to be a pretty extraordinary fight.No, they don't -- not the majority of white voters in "the middle of the country." Yes, some aren't regular Fox watchers or talk radio listeners, and before Trump's victory enough of them voted for Obama to give him wins in very white Midwestern states. But Republicans have won the white vote for more than a generation -- in four victories, Obama and Bill Clinton never won a majority or plurality of whites. For the foreseeable future, whites will lean Republican, out of a belief that the Democratic Party hates their guns and their sentimental patriotism and their taste in food and music ... and because the GOP validates their discomfort with a diverse society, overtly under Trump and in code otherwise.
HAROLD FORD JR: If you listen to the beginning of what Bernie Sanders said, he said a few Republicans want to improve Obamacare, which you could find an ally in Donald Trump in that regard. Donald Trump's remarks remind people that he ran not as a traditional Republican as said around this table numerous times but the imperfect vessel that represents the middle of the country, and the majority of people consider themselves independents more so than Democrat or Republican.
On healthcare, Republicans will find a way to agree. I don't care how serious Trump seems about covering everyone -- he'll gladly accept congressional Republicans' phony promise of universal access instead of genuine universal coverage, or, if it looks as if he and the GOP are going to lose a vote in Congress, he'll go along with what Jonathan Chait predicts will be the congressional GOP's approach -- repeal now, delay a replacement forever, or at least until Democrats are in charge -- because he can't bear to be seen losing. After repeal, the idea of replacing Obamacare will just disappear. Trump will talk about the wall or get in Twitter feuds until we're distracted.
I don't think there's any likelihood that Trump will jettison Republicans and work with Democrats for universal coverage, which seems to be what a lot of people expect. He's surprisingly loyal to people who flatter him, and no one has flattered him more than Republican voters. They won't want to see him working with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. He'll lose his gang.
I could be wrong about all this. But I see no crack-up coming.