About a month into his presidency, Donald Trump hosted a White House meeting with business leaders and boasted, “I’m good at branding.” That may be true, but it’s not clear if the president has other priorities he takes as seriously.
For example, two senior administration officials told ABC News the president is determined to name the Republican tax plan “the Cut Cut Cut Act” – and this does not appear to be a joke.
Less than 24 hours before the bill is slated to be revealed, there is still dispute over the name, according to a senior congressional aide and a senior White House official.
The sources said it has been decided that the Ways and Means Committee will have the final say over the name.
According to the ABC News report, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) apparently told the president he could take the lead on naming the bill, though that proved problematic when Trump picked “the Cut Cut Cut Act.”
Ryan and House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) “pushed back” on the president’s choice, but, the report added, “Trump has held firm.”
And while we wait for additional confirmation on this, it’s worth noting how very easy the report is to believe.
Throughout the debate over taxes, Trump’s principal focus hasn’t been on public policy – about which he knows effectively nothing – but rather on public relations.
As we discussed in April, Trump was initially critical of a proposed border-adjustment tax as a way of generating revenue, announcing earlier this year, “Anytime I hear ‘border adjustment,’ I don’t love it.”
That led many to believe the White House was, at best, skeptical of the idea, but that wasn’t quite right. Instead, Trump was being very literal: he disapproved of “border adjustment” as a matter of rhetoric. The president had very little to say about the utility of the policy, but he publicly expressed discomfort with the phrase itself.
It’s become a hallmark of Trump’s presidency: how American families’ lives would be affected by various proposals isn’t a subject the amateur president finds especially interesting. But branding and sales pitches are very much in his wheelhouse.
As this applies to the ongoing Republican difficulties in shaping a tax plan, Trump has nothing constructive to offer in terms of policy measures and substantive details, but he’s “holding firm” on supporting a name for the bill that a third grader might’ve come up with.
I’m reminded of something Slate’s Jordan Weissmann wrote several months ago: “Tax reform is in many ways just as complicated and politically unwieldly. And at the moment, the president isn’t demonstrating any kind of firm grasp on the single topic that has defined the debate so far…. Trump’s intellectual vacuum could end up swallowing his whole party’s agenda.”
That was true in April, and it remains true now.