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On Tax Day, the GOP's regressive plan remains a political failure

Republicans thought by now, their tax plan would be a political winner for the GOP. They thought wrong.
A twenty dollar bill. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)
A twenty dollar bill.

In late 2017, as the Republicans' regressive tax plan was poised to clear Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was optimistic about the politics of his party's gambit. "If we can't sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work," the GOP leader said at the time.

That was probably the wrong thing to say. The tax breaks that Republicans were supposed to exploit for electoral gain proved to be wildly unpopular, and GOP candidates -- incumbents and challengers alike -- generally tried to avoid the topic in the 2018 midterms, right before the party gave up control of the U.S. House and lost the largest number of seats since the Watergate era.

If Republicans hoped their tax plan would gradually grow in popularity, they have reason to be disappointed. As Politico noted this morning, most Americans "really don't like" Donald Trump's "beloved tax cut bill."

Multiple polls show a majority of Americans don't think they got a tax cut at all — even though independent analyses show they did. And only around a third of the country approves of the legislation itself, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed by Congress at the end of 2017.So as Trump moves closer to full-time reelection mode later this year, he will have to battle a stark reality: While his personal rating on the economy remains high, his signature legislative achievement is widely viewed as a political dud, one that has drawn special anger in places with high state and local taxes and pricey housing markets where deductions were limited to reduce the overall cost of the tax plan.

John Harwood recently highlighted the results of the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which found only 17% of Americans believe they've received a tax cut. Even Republican voters haven't bought into their own president's rhetoric about the scope and scale of the GOP plan.

Harwood's report added, "In reality, 8 in 10 Americans stood to receive tax cuts in 2018 under the law, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Yet the cuts for most taxpayers are so small that many didn't notice."

What's more, with changes to withholdings, many households have done their taxes in recent weeks and discovered they're getting smaller-than-expected refunds -- while many more aren't getting a refund at all.

NBC News talked to a taxpayer last week who said, in reference to his family's refund, "It wasn't quite what Trump had said it was going to be."

The president is nevertheless scheduled to visit Minnesota later today, where he's expected to tout the tax breaks that disproportionately benefited the wealthy and big corporations. I imagine Trump, eager to boost his plan's popularity, will say the tax cuts gave the economy a huge boost.

And while it's likely that the policy had some positive effects, the fact remains that economic growth after the tax cuts was no better than it was in 2015 -- in fact, it's just a little worse -- and job growth in the United States has slowed since Trump took office.