Steven Mnuchin will deliver a Republican win on tax reform

Steven Mnuchin will deliver a Republican win on tax reform
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Achieving tax reform is a monumental challenge for the Trump administration. But this president never seems to shy away from a good fight. Fortunately for the president, he’s selected a first-class negotiator and surrogate for tax reform in Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinBipartisan housing finance reform on the road less taken Trump at a pivotal crossroads on Iran Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn't want war with Iran | Pentagon chief calls attack on Saudi oil facilities 'unprecedented' | Administration weighs response | 17th US service member killed in Afghanistan this year MORE. During the presidential transition, I served as Secretary Mnuchin’s media spokesman and had the opportunity to watch him prepare up close as he went through the confirmation process. He is a great person, a hard worker, and a boss who commands deep loyalty from colleagues and friends alike. If Secretary Mnuchin is going to succeed at passing historic tax reform, he’s going to do so for the following five reasons.

First, Secretary Mnuchin is stone cold under pressure. Imagine it’s 2008 and you just took over a bank with billions of failing subprime mortgages on your books and lawsuits from disgruntled clients and their lawyers about to hit you like a bad Morgan & Morgan commercial. Some might flee that situation or quickly go to bankruptcy court. His legendary rescue of OneWest Bank from the depths of the depression showed how he handles pressure. He saved thousands of jobs, restructured mortgages, including thousands where he reduced borrower principal, and turned the bank around.

A decade later, he coolly weathered political attacks on his record through his confirmation process. I was there as the news cameras filmed hungry Senate Democrats go for the kill at Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing. The air went out of the balloon as soon as Mnuchin calmly and easily deflected and deflated the partisan attacks. He proceeded to easily win confirmation from the Republican majority.

Second, economic issues unite the Republican Party. There is no controversy within the Republican Party over what it stands for (though, of course, the devil is in the details) when it comes to the economic cluster of issues. While Republicans sometimes split viscerally on topics like abortion and immigration, the vast majority of voters and lawmakers are Republicans because of the shared interest in limited government and lower taxes. Secretary Mnuchin is negotiating with a party that starts on this issue fundamentally from a position of agreement, not discord.

Third, the Freedom Caucus, which successfully leveraged its organization into one of the most powerful coalitions in Washington, wants tax reform. The caucus is at the forefront of the media conversation about tax reform. A former member, Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump administration asks Supreme Court to take up challenge to consumer bureau NOAA chief praises agency scientists after statement backing up Trump tweet The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same MORE, runs the Office of Management and Budget. The caucus chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), speaks to President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE regularly. The caucus can singlehandedly tank any legislation pushed on a partisan basis, which almost any legislation endorsed by President Trump will, unfortunately, be. The caucus praised the initial tax reform blueprint and many of its members have publicly called for the exact types of reforms Secretary Mnuchin and the White House are proposing.

Fourth, the Trump administration’s proposal starts from a position of strength. Rather than moving the tax reform proposal more to the center in what would ultimately turn into a futile attempt to grab Democrat votes, Secretary Mnuchin and his team have proposed a sweeping plan paid for by a more than $1 trillion elimination of the state and local tax deduction, among other things. Some of that revenue will disappear as the sausage-making begin in earnest, but by staking out a position on the right, Secretary Mnuchin and President Trump have room to maneuver.

Fifth, Republicans desperately need a win, not just in policy, but in politics. There’s an old saying that the only thing that truly motivates members of Congress is the fear of losing their jobs. That means constituent support matters most, even more so than lobbyist checks. Given the failures to move ObamaCare repeal, Secretary Mnuchin and the Trump administration have some leverage on the politics. Republicans cannot fail to pass a bill then turn around and face the voters in 2018. As we saw in Alabama’s U.S. Senate special election, Republican primary voters are happy to take out their frustration on those in Washington sooner than November.

At the end of the day, Secretary Mnuchin is an experienced leader, a tough negotiator, and a staunch ally of the president. He just might get this important piece of the Republican agenda done.

Barney Keller is executive vice president at the political consulting firm Jamestown Associates. He served as spokesman for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during the presidential transition for Donald Trump.