Distracted Democrats blew their chance to defeat tax reform bill

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

It looks like the Republican tax reform bill is now a lock to pass in Congress and get signed into law, handing the GOP its first major legislative victory.

Passage of this bill, however, does not mean the Republicans will get a big boost in the 2018 midterm elections. The party risks suffering a similar fate the Democrats did in 2010 after rushing and compromising to pass Obamacare.

But the other big story here is how the Democrats dropped the ball and failed their own base by failing to stop the bill.

Much of the tax bill reads like a nightmare list for blue state Democrats. Atop that list is the capping of deductions for state and local taxes and mortgage interest payments. High tax coastal states like California, New York, and Massachusetts have been the Democrats’ electoral “sure thing territory” for decades.

The tax bill also effectively kills the Democrats’ proudest legislative achievement of the last 20 years. By eliminating the mandate requiring all citizens to buy health insurance or face a tax penalty, the bill will surely end Obamacare as we know it.

“By eliminating the mandate requiring all citizens to buy health insurance or face a tax penalty, the bill will surely end Obamacare as we know it.”

So where has the Democrats’ outrage over this been? Oh, I’m not talking about the smattering of sound bites and editorials out there. I mean “take to the streets” outrage. That is, the kind of outrage we’ve seen over allegations of Trump campaign collusion with the Russians or President Trump’s alleged racism against Muslim refugees.

Here’s the first part of the answer: The Democrats and the left in general have blown their wad.

They started blowing it on day one with the massive and often violent protests during on inauguration day. Just a day later they outdid that with a massive “Women’s Day” march that quickly morphed into a resist Trump event.

Then there were the many protests at airports over President Trump’s immigration and travel ban.

But nothing compares to the regular attention the Democrats and all anti-Trumpers have given to the ongoing investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Even this past weekend, the most passionate rhetoric from the left was all about how there should be riots in the streets if President Trump fires special counsel Robert Mueller.

The resist Trump movement is clearly stretched too thin.

The second part of the answer is that tax reform is harder to understand than accusations of racism, treason, and mistreating women. Even many Democrats in Congress have clearly had a hard time figuring out how to find a detail in the bill to create national outrage.

Take California Senator Dianne Feinstein for one, who sent out this ill-advised tweet:







Hear that folks? People with mortgages of more than $750,000 are getting screwed! I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t seem like a good bet that hundreds of thousands of Americans are going to be motivated to take to the streets to protect people who can otherwise afford a $750,000 mortgage.

Considering what’s financially at stake for the Democrats from other parts of the bill, you’d think they would have done much more to get just the three Republicans they needed in the Senate to defeat it. Instead, it now looks like every Republican will vote for the bill, (except Senator John McCain who is going home to Arizona for more medical care).

The Democrats are still trying to gain traction. They’re calling a last minute perk for real estate the “Corker Kickback,” referring to Senator Bob Corker who recently changed his no vote to a yes. Mr. Corker has real estate holdings and could benefit from the last minute break. Democrats are trying to flip him back to the ‘no’ column.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders penned on OpEd in the New York Times on Sunday, calling the tax plan “an enormous tax giveaway to the wealthy.” And the party as a whole is trying to get the hashtag #GOPTaxScam trending.

But is it too little too late? Would the widespread protests like they organized earlier this year over other issues have done the trick sooner? What about more editorials and a sole focus on defeating this bill for a few weeks? We may never know. Tax reform barely got a word in edgewise recently. Even the push against the repeal of Net Neutrality got equal or better billing the last few days.

The bottom line is when President Trump signs this tax bill, the Democrats will share responsibility for letting it happen. They’re just going to have to hope the voters forget about that when the 2018 midterm elections roll around.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.

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