Economic Debate: Kasich, Rubio, Bush Up — But Trump’s Protectionism is the Real Downer

 

DebateWith a record 24 million people watching the GOP debate, you’d think there would have been a lot more time spent on the most important issue of the day: the economy. Look at any poll. Jobs and the economy are always at the top of the list. But there was barely a mention of this on Thursday night.

The Republican party is not going to win this election unless it persuades the electorate that its primary principles of low marginal tax rates, lighter regulation, free trade, and a sound dollar are the best path to growth. Call it free-market capitalism. Call it supply-side. Call it entrepreneurship. Call it take-home pay. But the endgame is growth and prosperity.

So let’s make this very simple. Like almost every election in American history, 2016 is going to be about growth versus redistribution, private-sector markets and competition versus government planning, and a hard reliable dollar versus a protectionist collapse of the greenback.

Back in 2012, the GOP never made the optimistic growth case. As fine a man as he is, Mitt Romney played the pessimist, telling us daily what’s wrong with America and its economy. And Barack Obama was the optimist, telling us that things weren’t great but they were improving.

Voters chose the optimist. They always do. Bill Clinton. Ronald Reagan. John F. Kennedy. FDR.

Yet as small as the economic segment was in the Cleveland debate, I think three people came out on top of it: John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush. And one individual went in the wrong direction: Donald Trump.

Kasich offered few specifics. But he absolutely launched on effective riffs for growth and optimism.

“Economic growth is the key,” said Kasich. “Economic growth is the key to everything. And we must reach out to people in the shadows. America is a miracle country, and we have to restore the sense that the miracle will apply to you.”

Kasich argued for “growth, growth, growth,” with lower tax rates and a balanced budget. He basically adopted the JFK-Reagan-Jack Kemp mantra that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Jeb Bush was more programmatic. He stuck to his 4 percent growth target and emphasized that 2 percent secular stagnation is not acceptable. He wants lower tax rates, fewer regulations, unleashed energy, school choice, and Obamacare repeal. And he asserted at least twice that effective immigration reform is an economic-growth driver.

Marco Rubio also argued for Obamacare’s repeal and school choice, and mentioned limited regulatory budgeting and overturning Dodd-Frank. Interestingly, he was specific on taxes. He argued for a 25 percent corporate tax rate for small and big businesses. This looks like a positive change. Previously he had a 35 percent top personal tax rate, which would be the small-business pass-through rate. If he’s lowering that to 25 percent, a good thing, it may mean he’s cutting way back on his $1.6 trillion child-tax-credit proposal, which has been panned by supply-siders as anathema to true tax reform without any growth impact. We’ll see if that reading is correct.

Governor Chris Christie also wants to lower tax rates, but his Social Security plan would reduce benefits and turn the system into a means-tested entitlement. Respectfully, I don’t buy it. Anyway, if the economy grew at 3.5 percent over the long run — the American tradition — Social Security would be in fine shape.

Meanwhile, Ben Carson seemed to promote a 10 percent flat tax, but offered no details, and Mike Huckabee stuck with his fair tax, which is well intentioned but unworkable. Rand Paul’s promising flat tax never came up.

And no one talked about the dollar and monetary policy, which are incredibly important. A collapsing dollar value such as occurred in the 1970s and 2000s will doom the economy. But a reliably hard dollar not only keeps inflation low, it gives America a leg up in the global race for capital.

And then there’s Donald Trump. As I wrote a week ago, his 2011 book highlighted supply-side policies such as slashing personal tax rates and abolishing the corporate tax. There was no mention of these in the debate. Instead, Trump continued to rail against China and Mexico and generally the rest of the world.

This has protectionism written all over it. Mexico is our second-leading export market. China is our second-biggest trading partner. A 35 percent tariff, which Trump has hinted at in the past, would be a gigantic tax hike, setting off a global trade war and doing incalculable damage to our economy. We don’t need another Smoot-Hawley. Trump should have been asked about this by the debate moderators. Unfortunately, the subject of trade never came up.

Economic growth and optimism are the keys to victory. But until Republicans spell out specifics on taxes, trade, and money, they won’t close the deal.

 

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  1. Super Nurse Inactive
    Super Nurse
    @SuperNurse

    Douglas:

    Super Nurse:

    Kudlow is arguing for a big picture campaign from voters that really don’t care about big pictures. They look at their bank balance and how big their house is. And they notice that too often, guys screaming “growth, low marginal taxes, investment” yadda yadda are making big bank from Wall Street and they aren’t, while Democrats are going “Look, we’ll make sure YOUR bank balance is bigger. We’ll do it by taking from Mr. Wall Street”. THAT is hard to beat.

    But not at all impossible, I think. There is ample evidence that these policies produce measurable benefits, and plenty of historic examples to back it up. I do think that immigration is a wedge issue for a reason. Many/most voters are actually worried about immigration because it will hurt them personally. I think we can illustrate how conservative reforms can benefit YOU personally, but you are correct that it is a long haul. It probably does require cutting some ties as a party with big donors.

    • #31
  2. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Douglas:

    Super Nurse:

    You’re reading “jobs, the economy” into “the best path to growth” which I do not think is typical of voters. I’d bet that if you asked random people what “path to growth” means, few would attach this to their typical understanding of the economy. I think most voters, when they say “jobs/economy” really mean MY job, and MY PERSONAL economy. … I’m more worried about my own checking account ….

    You pretty much nailed the essence of what I was gonna say. Top three concerns of voters? “Me, Me, and Me”. This is why Democrats win so often. “Vote for us, and we’ll give you *insert bribe here*”. …, but when the rubber hits the road, and real cuts have to be made, Americans are all “Take HIS stuff but don’t dare touch MINE”.

    … They look at their bank balance and how big their house is. And they notice that too often, guys screaming “growth, low marginal taxes, investment” yadda yadda are making big bank from Wall Street and they aren’t, while Democrats are going “Look, we’ll make sure YOUR bank balance is bigger. We’ll do it by taking from Mr. Wall Street”. THAT is hard to beat.

    well some of that is in play, for sure.  But believing that there isn’t a nucleus of voters more intelligent than that would make it real hard to get up in the morning.  Republicans win sometimes don’t ya know.

    • #32
  3. John Penfold Member
    John Penfold
    @IWalton

    I just heard Rand Paul discuss his tax proposal on Fox Sunday.  He proposes a 14.5% flat tax and a 14.5% VAT.  This is the best thing out there, even if he isn’t.  This combination, if uniform and linked has a magical effect on revenues and investment and is practically self collecting.

    • #33
  4. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    John Penfold:I just heard Rand Paul discuss his tax proposal on Fox Sunday. He proposes a 14.5% flat tax and a 14.5% VAT. This is the best thing out there, even if he isn’t. This combination, if uniform and linked has a magical effect on revenues and investment and is practically self collecting.

    Republicans may like it, but how do you sell it to Democrats?  Isn’t the flat tax a non-starter with them.  The enemy has a vote.  This plan taxes expenditures on food and yachts the same, correct?  The Dems will be licking their chops every time this plan comes up for public debate.

    • #34
  5. John Penfold Member
    John Penfold
    @IWalton

    Manfred Arcane:

    “how do you sell it to Democrats?

    The people who would oppose lower taxes and the elimination of the payroll tax are not paying attention or don’t pay either or would never vote for a Republican.   I imagine that most voters  just want to know what they will pay and if filing taxes is simpler.  Others don’t understand and are easily turned off by the discussion, so I think it’s probably  a matter of selling the changes to those who pay attention.  The combination of VAT and a serious cut in income taxes were imposed by  Lange, New Zealand’s Socialist PM.  By the time the left realized what Lange was doing, revenues were solving their deficit problems, the economy was booming and other market reforms were proving to be revolutionary.   Lots of conservatives hate the VAT mostly because they don’t understand it or know it only as practiced in Europe with variable rates and lots of corruption.  Actually the reason to make the income side flat is to link it  to the VAT making it difficult to raise and because  conservatives like the idea of a flat tax.  I don’t particularly like the flat tax because it must kick in at some level of income and the demagoguery will be to raise the rate and the income level where it kicks in.  Three brackets beginning low with credit for VAT paid, 5, 10 15 with the VAT at 10?  

    • #35
  6. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    John Penfold: I don’t particularly like the flat tax because it must kick in at some level of income and the demagoguery will be to raise the rate and the income level where it kicks in

    Hmm, this is what I like about it.  The entire complexity of the existing tax code reduced to two, easily understood numbers:  How much exemption before applying the tax, and what the tax rate is.  Very simple.  Negates any attempt to impose higher rates on higher income earners because everyone paying taxes would be affected by a rate increase (or decrease).  Everyone would have skin in the game, exactly like it should be.  Brilliant.  Now figure out how to get the Dems to sign up to something that takes away their ability to steal from the Rich in order to bribe the electorate.  There’s the rub.

    • #36
  7. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Super Nurse:

    Bush and Trump, IMO, both benefit from name recognition almost exclusively. I have not meet or spoken with one enthusiastic supporter of either. It makes me suspect that the low information people answering the polls are just picking a name that sounds good. Oh, and bankers.

    I am enthusiastic supporter of Jeb.  Now you’ve met one.

    • #37
  8. John Penfold Member
    John Penfold
    @IWalton

    Indeed the goal is to assure that all have skin in the game.  Bush’s biggest mistake was to cut the bottom brackets so much many people were eliminated from paying taxes.  He did this for the reason Republicans often to dumb things, to avoid liberal attacks.  It never works because liberals don’t care.   Win the next election and the Dems don’t have to sign up.  Do they want to oppose the elimination of the payroll tax?  A rebate through the tax code for VAT paid.  Let’s see.  Act with blistering speed as Lange did.  There is nothing the Republicans can put forward that will not be attacked as favoring the rich by the Debbie Wassermann’s of that party.  We have to ignore them and do what works for the country fast enough to win the argument with reality on the ground.  We have real world economics in our corner.  They have the media and spin.  We can’t win the PR battle.  There is a time for policy wonks and a time for the “Republican strategists” gag.  I’m with the wonks.

    • #38
  9. Super Nurse Inactive
    Super Nurse
    @SuperNurse

    Manny:

    Super Nurse:

    Bush and Trump, IMO, both benefit from name recognition almost exclusively. I have not meet or spoken with one enthusiastic supporter of either. It makes me suspect that the low information people answering the polls are just picking a name that sounds good. Oh, and bankers.

    I am enthusiastic supporter of Jeb. Now you’ve met one.

    How do I know you’re real? :)

    • #39
  10. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Super Nurse

    Manny:

    Super Nurse:

    Bush and Trump, IMO, both benefit from name recognition almost exclusively. I have not meet or spoken with one enthusiastic supporter of either. It makes me suspect that the low information people answering the polls are just picking a name that sounds good. Oh, and bankers.

    I am enthusiastic supporter of Jeb. Now you’ve met one.

    How do I know you’re real? :)

    I just pinched myself and it hurt. :)

    • #40
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