Lose the Battle, Win the War
I know – it’s anathema to Conservatives to raise taxes. And objection to the President’s proposal to raise taxes is a principled objection. But no matter how the “negotiations” conclude, Republicans will lose. Either they agree to raise the tax rate on those earning more than $200K/$250K, or they allow the Bush tax rates to expire, raising taxes rates on everyone. Either way, tax rates are going up. It’s just a question of how much and for how many. If they only go up for the “rich,” the President wins. If they go up for everyone, Republicans will be blamed, and the President wins again.
So swallow hard, and agree to raise taxes on the “rich,” but do so with the following qualifying statement (from Speaker Boehner): “We (Republicans) agree to raise taxes on the “rich,” as the President has asked, but we do so with significant reservations. We do not agree that it is good policy nor that it will help the economy recover. To the contrary – we think it’s bad policy and will be yet another obstacle to economic recovery. However, unlike the President, we are not prepared to let the country go over the “fiscal cliff.” Rather, we think it is in the country’s best interest to resolve this issue and provide certainty to American taxpayers. And while we maintain our principled opposition to the President’s policy, we put the interests of the country first. The President believes taxing the “rich” more will help our economy recover. Time will be the test of that belief.”
Taking this tact will do a number of things that will turn the tables on this issue. First, it changes the dynamic of the discussion. The current conversation is the one the President wants to have. Republicans are intransigent and unwilling to compromise, while the President is just about fairness. Republicans are only looking out for the rich. Republicans should change the discussion by positioning themselves as both principled and as acting in the best interests of the country. Their opposition is not based upon a desire to protect one class of citizens, but upon the belief that raising taxes is bad policy. They’re not conceding the tax issue to Democrats because they agree to let tax rates rise if they do so with clear and significant reservation. At the same time, they will position the President as the one willing to let the country go over the cliff – as he’s already stated. What arguments does the President have left if the Republicans agree – again, with reservation? Second, if the President gets his tax increase, he owns the economic repercussions. While he could try to blame Republicans because they went along, the argument would certainly ring hollow. Finally, Republicans may lose this battle, but will survive to fight another day. If they continue to fight to try to “win” this battle, they will lose both the battle and the war. The “victory” the President will be able to claim if Republicans agree to raise taxes will be short-lived. However, if the Republicans are seen as the ones who allowed the country to go over the cliff, causing everyone’s taxes to increase, the damage will be significant and long-term.
Be smart Republicans – politically smart. Stop being played for fools, and stop allowing the President, Democrats and the media to dictate the terms of this debate. Demonstrate leadership, and strategic and tactical thinking, and take control of this now.