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Jules Witcover: Santa or Scrooge in the Oval Office?

Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON — In this traditional season of tidings of gladness and joy, the jury is out on whether American taxpayers should be celebrating or bemoaning the massive tax reform package placed under the Christmas tree by President Trump and his merry band of Republican members of Congress.

A bus cavalcade brought the solons to the White House the other day to congratulate him, and themselves, for the largest such reform bill in years, which they passed without a single Democratic vote. It marked a triumph of blind faith, or political obeisance, over common sense, considering the dire scoring of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office and other self-identified unbiased tax experts.

It was a case of a command performance by both the president, who orchestrated the show, and his Capitol Hill party minions, who were also hungry for a singular legislative scalp to hang on the tree, in Trump’s first year in the Oval Office.

For a brief interlude before the assembled television cameras, the president called the GOP congressional leaders to the microphone on the White House lawn to figuratively kiss his ring and put a collective face on a party unity that has been mostly a mirage for the past year.

Trump returned the favor with lavish praise for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, both of whom had bucked him on occasion in rare lapses of revulsion toward his transparent misrepresentations and own “fake news” floated via Twitter.

They and the other attendees at this mixed Potemkin Village of true believers and reluctant go-alongs were similarly willing to be props in the administration’s boast of a productive first Trump era year. They temporarily put on hold their own doubts and irritations about what they have endured during it.

In the face of Trump’s persisting low public approval ratings, they are betting that the narrow victory on the tax bill, which minimally and temporarily rewards the middle class while largely and permanently favoring corporations and the rich, will be game-changer.

By accentuating their view of the positive and hoping it will materialize between now and the midterm congressional elections, Republicans will be campaigning with Trump promising to return often and aggressively to the trail that put him where he is today.

But the Democrats seem ready and equally willing to campaign hard on their account of the tax law as an overt giveaway to Trump donors and to himself.

The test may come in November’s elections, and one reader, obviously a woman who has no love for the Oval Office occupant, wonders “whether the strong showing by women running for office is going bring about the change in political direction that we need by rooting out the Trump supporters. … No women can credibly back Trumpian ideas. … So I am hopeful that the more women are elected, the more hope there is for a purge of Trumpian ideas from the government.”

There’s little doubt that the “?MeToo” movement has generated a spike in female participation in the electoral process, or at least conversation about it. But it may be wishful thinking to believe it will translate into more anti-Trump sentiment. Trump’s rallies, after all, continue to feature loud and vocal female choruses of support for him.

Nevertheless, if the new tax reform package is as unpopular as early polls suggest, and as the Democratic candidates seeking election or re-election next fall will profess it to be, the chances of a change in congressional control now seems possible.

In any event, the celebratory Trump pep rally on the White House lawn showed for now that there remains a real if tenuous condition of Republican cooperation between a dominating president and the Grand Old Party on Capitol Hill.

Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. 

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