OPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP


Recent news reports documenting the relationship between President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell highlight the need for Republicans to go into next year’s elections with a positive record that forms the basis of a strong contrast message.

Right now, the D.C. conversation is driven by process and if the midterm elections were held today, the Republican message would be dominated by disqualification of the Democrats. As head of an opposition research firm, I believe the case against Democrats is made stronger by an overall forward-looking message, raising the stakes of the upcoming tax reform debate even higher.

{mosads}Up and down the ballot, the best campaigns are those that present a clear contrast message. Elections are choices, not referendums. History is littered with losing candidates who believed in either being 100 percent positive or, for lack of policy vision, went relentlessly negative. Armed with good opposition research, a winning campaign is one that can both effectively undermine their opponent while presenting a positive record or alternative.

In 2014, it wasn’t enough to disqualify Bruce Braley for attacking Iowa farmers. We needed now-Senator Joni Ernst’s strong message about the Iowa commonsense that she would bring to Washington. At the presidential level, the untrustworthy and out-of-touch narratives took hold over Hillary Clinton while President Trump mobilized disaffected voters across the spectrum.

In 2018, we need this same contrast formula to win and that means action on the Hill. As he crisscrosses the nation, Speaker Ryan makes an eloquent case for all that has been accomplished so far. Senator McConnell’s ushering through now-Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch was an achievement worthy of our voters. But Republicans need a strong finish to 2017 and 2018 to make the midterm choice clear. That means President Trump and Hill leadership are going to have to work together to produce tangible results.

The answer is tax reform.

Right now, Republicans have a compelling economic message based on the numbers alone. More than one million jobs created since President Trump took office. Consumer confidence and earnings are up. These are clear facts. If they could be coupled with legislative achievement and a tax reform signing ceremony at the White House, then Republicans would have the foundation for going to the American people in 2018 with the message that we need more conservatives in Washington, D.C.

On top of that, the passage of tax reform would show that Republican leaders are able to work through any reported issues to effectively leverage all the tools at their disposal to get something done for the American people. It will mean that policymakers and legislators put together a plan that appealed to a broad consensus of a diverse Congress. It will mean that outside groups delivered a compelling message. It will mean that political levers were pulled to force Democrats in conservative-leaning states to vote for reforms they couldn’t refuse. And it will mean that the plan was focused on having a real-world impact for Americans at their dining room tables, small businesses on main streets, and U.S. corporations that employ thousands to tens of thousands across the country.

The impact of this achievement would be clear in states like Missouri where Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) already faces an uphill re-election in a state President Trump carried by 19 points last year, and just endured a devastating week of news narratives.

Whether it was her gaffe about “normal people” being able to afford private jets like hers or weak attempts to disassociate herself from national Democrats, McCaskill is increasingly vulnerable. Her record is one that Republicans are eager to share. When it comes to tax reform, she will be forced to choose between satisfying her anti-Trump at all cost base or voting for a Republican plan that would benefit all Americans.

By traveling to Missouri, President Trump is rightly putting a spotlight on her conundrum. If the Trump is able to sign tax reform into law, that means that his trip this week would have been followed-up with clear and consistent campaign action from the White House, Hill leadership, outside groups, and when all is said and done, the people of Missouri will realize that McCaskill doesn’t stand with them.

Democrats are more vulnerable than they think. Their records have been analyzed. Their actions are being scrutinized. Half of the contrast message is set. But Republicans across our party still face a choice in setting the other half of the story.

They can pile onto the media’s narrative of discord. Or, they do what voters demanded by passing tax reform in the coming months, which helps every American, grows the economy, and gives conservatives running in 2018 and 2020 the ability to tout a strong record.

Joe Pounder is the president of Definers Public Affairs, a political consulting firm, and America Rising Corp, a Republican opposition research firm. Follow him on Twitter @PounderFile.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Bruce Braley Claire McCaskill Claire McCaskill Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joni Ernst Mitch McConnell Mitch McConnell Politics of the United States Republican Party

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