A funny thing happened on the way to the Republican sweep of the midterms: Florida Sen. Rick Scott included a maladroit two-sentence item in a sprawling 59-page document outlining his view of what might eventually become a Republican policy agenda.
This is the scenario that Democrats seem to think will help save them in November, in one of the most ludicrous stratagems ever adopted by an embattled majority desperate to find a way — any way — to escape a nearly inevitable midterm shellacking.
The relevant bullet point in the 128-item Scott agenda says, “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”
The White House is hoping that this is the fulcrum upon which the midterm elections will turn.
In his remarks on Tuesday about inflation, President Joe Biden alluded to Scott’s document and called it “the Ultra-MAGA Agenda.” He hit Scott for — if he really wants everyone to pay something in net income taxes — seeking to raise taxes on tens of millions of Americans making less than $100,000 a year.
Scott’s idea is vulnerable to this political attack, and doesn’t have much policy rationale, either. The language in his plan suggests no one is really vested in our system unless he or she owes federal income taxes. But one reason many people don’t owe net income taxes is that we’ve fashioned the tax code to benefit lower-income workers and families with kids. Also, if owing taxes is the standard of engaged citizenship, it should be noted that even people who don’t pay net federal income taxes pay all sorts of other taxes, from the payroll tax to state income and sales taxes, to property taxes and other local taxes.
All that said, Scott’s plan is the thinnest of thin reeds to use to turn around a national election. The chances of anyone taking up Scott’s idea is nil.
Biden claimed that “the majority of Republicans buy on to Scott’s plan.” This is flatly ridiculous. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been as explicit as possible that the tax idea won’t be part of a Senate Republican majority agenda, and his fellow members of leadership have said the same.
Outgoing White House press secretary Jen Psaki the other day portrayed RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel as a big supporter of the idea, but when Scott released his plan she only offered boilerplate praise. “Joe Biden and Democrats have made life more expensive and less safe for families across America,” McDaniel said. “Republicans like Senator Rick Scott have real solutions to put us back on track. From lowering costs and creating jobs, to supporting police and securing the border, Republicans are offering a clear plan to protect and reinvigorate the America we know and love.”
What was she supposed to say? Sometimes Republicans come up with the most ill-considered ideas?
Showing an impressive creativity, Psaki also argued that since Republicans don’t have an alternative agenda to Scott’s document, it’s either his plan “or nothing.”
Nothing is an option, though, and the one favored by McConnell, who hates giving the Democrats anything to shoot at and wants the midterms to be entirely a referendum on Biden.
It’s not as though, should they win the majority, Republicans are going to look around at one another and say, “Welp. We didn’t run on any policy agenda, so we have no alternative other than to pass this tax idea that most of us oppose as a stone-cold political loser and send it to the White House for a popular and inevitable veto.”
Even Rick Scott says his plan is his, and his alone. And he’s rendered the original tax idea essentially a nullity by saying it wouldn’t apply to working people or retirees.
Regardless, Rick Scott isn’t a natural boogeyman. For Democrats to make him into one, they first have to explain who he is — a senator from Florida (something Biden needs to brush up on, having misidentified him during his remarks as from Wisconsin). Then, they have to explain why he matters — he’s chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Finally, they’d have to explain what the National Republican Senatorial Committee is.
Scott is a quirky and intense politician, but not a particularly threatening one. As governor of Florida, he was a hard worker who made it a political focus to reach out to Latino voters, and had success in winning them over before the broader trend of Latinos shifting toward the GOP began to emerge.
He’s not “ultra MAGA,” as Biden put, nor is his tax idea very Trumpy. If anything, it harkens back to the Republican Party circa 2012 when the distinction between so-called makers (those who earn ample income and pay most of the income taxes) and takers (those who don’t) was a big deal.
It’s understandable that, given the beating the White House is taking on the economy, Democrats are eager to find an issue where they can take the popular side. That’s certainly the case with Scott’s tax idea. But, at the end of the day, reality matters. Republicans aren’t running on raising taxes and an attenuated, unconvincing attempt to portray them as doing so isn’t going to distract people from higher prices and other economic discontents.
The Rick Scott election isn’t going to happen.